Austin Jenkins

Olympia Correspondent

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Ways to Connect

Washington Governor Jay Inslee will call lawmakers back into a second special session beginning at 9:00 a.m. Wednesday. He’s also beginning preparations for a government shutdown on July 1 if there’s no deal by then.

The moves come as the 30th and final day of the first overtime session comes and goes with still no budget deal.

At a news conference, Democrat Inslee blamed the stalemate on the mostly Republican Senate Majority for insisting on several controversial policy measures he says are unrelated to the budget.

Washington’s Liquor Control Board has been inundated with feedback on its proposed marijuana regulations. The deadline to submit comments was Monday. The Board is writing the rules for legalized cannabis. Among the many concerns: the state’s new pot logo.

It’s called the Produced in Washington icon. It’s an outline of the state with a marijuana leaf in the middle. The idea was to require this label be affixed to any package containing marijuana sold at a retail store.

Washington’s overtime legislative session ends at midnight on Tuesday. But there’s still no agreement on a state budget for the next two years.

Over the weekend, the mostly Republican senate majority passed a revised version of its own spending plan, along with a trio of controversial policy measures.

The three policy bills are not new, the Senate passed them during the regular session. The difference is two of them now have referendum clauses, meaning voters would get the final say.

The Washington Senate’s coalition caucus has reclaimed its majority status. Republican Steve O’Ban was sworn in Wednesday. He fills the seat of the late Mike Carrell who died last week during treatment of a pre-leukemia condition.

O’Ban’s appointment was fast-tracked in order to restore the mostly Republican coalition’s one vote majority during final budget negotiations.

mathteacherguy / Flickr

There’s one week left in Washington’s special legislative session and still no budget deal. Gov. Jay Inslee and the Senate majority caucus held dueling news conferences Tuesday, complete with plenty of finger-pointing.

The governor went first. Inslee, a Democrat, blasted the mostly-Republican senate majority for an estate tax measure that passed out of committee late last week. Inslee called it a new tax break for more than 200 wealthy Washingtonians at the expense of public schools.

mathteacherguy / Flickr

A public radio investigation into lobbyist-paid meals has prompted an ethics complaint against three state lawmakers.

The complaint was filed this week by an open government advocate named Arthur West, who alleges the two Republicans and one Democrat violated the rule that states lawmakers can accept free meals only on an “infrequent” basis.

Meanwhile, some legislators say they’re the victims of flaws in the system used by lobbyists report entertainment expenses.

mathteacherguy / Flickr

Washington state lawmakers are barred from accepting gifts intended to influence their vote. But there’s an exception to that rule. Members of the Legislature are allowed to accept free food and drinks if it’s related to their official duties, but only on an “infrequent” basis.

However, a public radio investigation, conducted in cooperation with the Associated Press, reveals that dozens of state legislators frequently accept meals from lobbyists. And many of them do so even while collecting taxpayer-funded per diem payments.

Washington state Senator Mike Carrell of Lakewood has died from complications related to treatment for a pre-leukemia blood disorder.

Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler said Carrell died Wednesday morning at a Seattle hospital of lung complications from his ongoing treatment of transplants from his brother and chemotherapy. Schoesler says that Carrell died in his sleep with his wife, Charlotte, nearby.

WSDOT

Just prior to the Interstate 5 bridge collapse Thursday night in Mount Vernon, an oversized load struck a portion of the bridge’s steel superstructure, according to eyewitness accounts. 

The I-5 bridge over the Skagit River was built in 1955. It’s a truss-style structure. All that steel above—"think of it as a 16 foot-tall beam," says bridge engineer Stanley Ryter. "And if any part of that breaks, then you lose the ability to carry the load."

Spokane’s Fairchild Air Force Base has lost out on a bid to be the first to house the Air Force's newest refueling tanker aircraft. 

While Spokane and Washington state leaders have spent the last few years touting Fairchild Air Force Base as the leading contender to take the first new Boeing KC 46A tanker planes, the Pentagon Wednesday decided that McConnell Air Force base in Wichita, Kansas is its choice. McConnell will receive the first batch of 36 planes in 2016. 

Gov. Jay Inslee has signed a law that will allow the state’s fictitious driver’s license program to continue, but only for undercover law enforcement activities. At the bill signing Tuesday, Inslee backed away from a previous statement that he would apply a broad definition of the term “law enforcement.

Pressure is mounting on Washington state lawmakers to approve a gas tax increase to fund road projects. Backers of the 10-cents-per-gallon tax proposal rallied at the state Capitol Monday to push for a vote during the current 30-day overtime session.

Dozens in hard hats gathered on the steps of the Capitol, holding signs and chanting: “Pass it now! Pass it now!”

Washington’s Department of Licensing has released a list of federal agencies that have received fictitious driver’s licenses for undercover operations. But the list made public Friday does not include the Central Intelligence Agency even though the state agency previously acknowledged its work with CIA.

Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

Washington’s proposed marijuana rules weren't even 24-hours old when critics began finding things not to like. The 46-pages of draft regulations released Thursday cover everything from where marijuana can be grown to the criminal backgrounds of license applicants. But it’s the section on marijuana concentrates that’s getting some negative buzz.

Austin Jenkins

Entrepreneurs who hope to cash in on legal marijuana will have some heavy reading to do Thursday. That’s when Washington’s Liquor Control Board is expected to release nearly 50 pages of proposed rules for growers, processors and retailers. But there is another pot rulebook that’s also in development.

It’s called the Cannabis Monograph. Think of it as an illustrated bible for pot quality control. It’s a technical but colorful handbook for testing labs to ensure the identity, purity, and quality of legal pot.

Shane Pope / Flickr

Washington’s court system will hire an outside expert to perform a computer security review and audit in the wake of a hacking incident that targeted system’s public website.

The hacking, the details of which were released last week, exposed nearly a hundred social security numbers and perhaps up to a million driver’s license numbers. But now there’s another cyber security concern at Washington Courts, this time with the state’s Judicial Information System.

Rachel La Corte / Associated Press

With the state Legislature back in session for a 30-day extra inning, Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday narrowed his agenda to three key items: the budget, a roads-and-transit funding package, and a crackdown on impaired drivers.

The U.S. attorney in Seattle has stepped in to block the release of information about the once-secret program in which the state of Washington issued fictitious driver’s licenses for CIA agents.

In a letter to the state, Jenny Durkan’s office said the documents are “classified national security information.”

Washington’s special session begins next Monday. But at this point, it seems unlikely House and Senate budget negotiators will be close to a deal. Gov. Jay Inslee said both sides agreed Tuesday on some common assumptions about the next two year budget.

Two Washington state lawmakers are defending their frequent dinners with lobbyists. The meals show up in monthly reports filed with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.

State Rep. Marcus Riccelli is a freshman Democrat from Spokane. On four occasions from January through March, he dined out with Michael Temple, a lobbyist for the state’s powerful trial lawyers association.

When asked Riccelli about those dinners, Riccelli joked, “I’m an Italian kid. I have a big appetite.”

Austin Jenkins

In the first three months of this year, lobbyists in Washington state spent more than $200,000 on entertainment. Much of that money was spent to wine and dine state lawmakers during the just-concluded 105-day session.

The spending begs the question: What are lobbyists and their clients getting in exchange for picking up the tab?

When Washington lawmakers return to Olympia in two weeks for a special session, Governor Jay Inslee is demanding they approve funding for the new Columbia River Crossing. The Democrat wants that funding included in a broader gas tax measure. But the governor faces opposition from the state senate - especially one powerful southwest Washington Republican: Senator Don Benton.

Austin Jenkins

An expected special session of the Washington state Legislature would mean another freeze on political fundraising.

State law prohibits lawmakers from soliciting contributions while they are in session. For most members, that’s probably not a huge concern since this is an off-election year. But a few legislators will be on this year’s ballot.

Gov. Jay Inslee is like the gambler. He says it would take an “inside straight” for the Legislature to complete its work by Sunday’s deadline. 

A nearly $1 billion tax vote in the Washington House Wednesday has cleared the way for budget negotiations to begin in earnest at the Capitol. But an overtime session still appears likely. 

Nearly two months have passed since the Washington Supreme Court tossed out a voter-approved two-thirds requirement for tax hikes.

On Monday anti-tax activist Tim Eyman proposed an initiative he describes as a “lobbying tool” to bring back the super majority rule. Eyman’s proposal would require annual advisory votes asking the public if it wants the Legislature to enshrine the two-thirds threshold into the state constitution.

Alan Cordova / Flickr

It appears more likely that Washington lawmakers will go into an overtime session. The regular 105-day session ends this Sunday. But the House and Senate, along with the governor, still have to agree on a two-year budget deal. Even if a deal was at hand—and it doesn’t appear one is—they’d be cutting it close.

U.S. Department of Transportation

Gov. Jay Inslee and lawmakers want to move swiftly to crack down on repeat drunk drivers. This after two recent high profile tragedies in Seattle. But on Thursday, they got some pushback from judges, prosecutors, civil libertarians and even the restaurant industry.

It’s a classic case of the devil’s in the details. Take ignition interlock devices. There’s a proposal to install them at the impound lot after a drunk driver is arrested. But the installers say that isn’t technically feasible and lawyers question whether it’s legal prior to a conviction.

Gov. Jay Inslee says he would apply a “broad” interpretation to the term “law enforcement” when issuing fictitious driver’s licenses to undercover agents. The governor’s comment follows our report that the CIA has obtained nearly 300 so-called confidential Washington driver’s licenses since 2007.

The Washington House has voted to allow the Department of Licensing to continue to issue fictitious driver’s licenses to undercover police officers. But with new safeguards. Even so, the vote late Tuesday came over the objections of some Republicans.

The Department of Licensing has issued so-called confidential driver’s licenses for decades. But it never had direct authorization from the Legislature to do so. 

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Repeat drunk drivers in Washington may soon carry a scarlet letter driver’s license and have to wear an alcohol detection bracelet. Those are just two of the requirements contained in DUI legislation proposed Tuesday in Olympia.

The bipartisan plan follows two recent drunk driving tragedies in the Seattle area. 

House Public Safety Chair Roger Goodman says the ankle bracelet detects alcohol consumption and alerts authorities.

Pages