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.

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OLYMPIA, Wash. - Washington Governor Jay Inslee says the eyes of the nation will be on the state as it creates a legal marijuana market over the next year. The new governor said Thursday that along with legalization comes the expectation that illegal pot production and sales will mostly end.

Inslee doesn’t expect a clear answer from the Obama administration anytime soon on how the federal government will respond to Washington’s new marijuana law. He met earlier this week with US Attorney General Eric Holder.

OLYMPIA, Wash. –The first public forum on how to implement Washington’s new marijuana law drew a capacity crowd Tuesday night in Olympia. The state’s Liquor Control Board is seeking input as it writes the rules for enacting Initiative 502 – Washington’s new pot legalization law.

They arrived early and in droves – the smell of marijuana clung in the air. First in line to get a seat for the forum, Leslie Tikka of Olympia. She mainly came to see a bit of history in the making.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington’s new governor touched a nerve with some Republicans in his inaugural address. On the topic of abortion Democrat Jay Inslee called on the legislature to pass the so-called Reproductive Parity Act. It would require health insurers that cover maternity services to also pay for abortions.

Inslee said, "Washington women need the freedom and privacy” to make their own health care decisions.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A Washington state senator with a long record of reprimands for her treatment of staff is taking the offensive. Republican Pam Roach Thursday fired back at her accusers – they include some fellow Republicans. The move comes just as fresh allegations of staff mistreatment emerge. And a narrow majority coalition takes power in the Washington senate.

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Washington lawmakers convene for the start of the 2013 session. They face a $2B budget problem, an unusual political dynamic in the state senate and hot button issues like gun control.

It’s like Downton Abbey. A new season of the legislature begins with plenty of intrigue and tensions between powerful personalities. There are familiar faces and new ones. Chief among them Governor-elect Jay Inslee.

Jay Inslee: “We’ve got fiscal challenges, we have some creative and different situations in the state senate, we have ideas that are contentious.”

OLYMPIA, Wash. – We’re starting to see real world fallout from some of the state budget cuts made in last few years. One of the clearest examples in Washington is juvenile parole. It turns out that the chief suspect in a recent high profile bar shooting had committed a previous murder – but did not qualify for intensive parole supervision because of cutbacks. One study finds juveniles who don’t receive parole are far more likely to be re-arrested within nine months of their release.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – It’s been nearly two years since Washington corrections officer Jayme Biendl was murdered on the job. But the union that represents prison guards says safety is still a major concern. The Teamsters plan to rally Thursday at the Capitol to demand safer work conditions. They also want the right to call in an arbitrator to resolve bargaining disputes.

Union representative Michelle Woodrow says since August seven officers have been assaulted at three different Washington prisons.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington initiative promoter Tim Eyman says he wants to make it easier to put an initiative on the ballot. Eyman submitted nearly 350,000 signatures Thursday for his latest ballot measure. But critics are suspicious.

Eyman’s so-called "Protect the Initiative Act" would give signature-gatherers new protections from harassment. It would also stretch the time initiative backers have to gather signatures in Washington from six months to one year. By comparison Oregon allows up to two years.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington Governor Chris Gregoire will leave office January 16th. During her eight years as governor, the Democrat often referred to herself as a “recovering lawyer.” Polls showed the former attorney general struggled to connect with voters. She could come off as a fierce technocrat. But her two-terms in office were marked by challenges that affected her on a deeply personal level.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington’s jobless rate has dropped below 8 percent for the first time in nearly four years. The November jobs numbers out Wednesday peg Washington’s unemployment rate at 7.8 percent. That’s down from 8.2 percent in October – the largest one month drop since 1977.

But chief labor economist Joe Elling cautions the state is still far from what he would consider full employment.

The top forces commander at Washington’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord has decided to seek the death penalty against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. He’s the 39-year old soldier accused of murdering 16 Afghan civilians earlier this year.

Bales is accused of conducting two predawn raids on villages in southern Afghanistan. The victims were mostly women and children and the Army says some of the bodies were burned. Prosecutors had asked for a death penalty trial and top commanders at Lewis-McChord agreed.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Taxes are a key part of Washington Governor Chris Gregoire’s final budget before leaving office . The outgoing Democrat released her proposed two-year spending plan Tuesday as required by law. Gregoire says she wrote her budget with incoming Governor Jay Inslee in mind. But he hasn’t exactly embraced it.

AP

OLYMPIA, Wash. – President Obama’s first comments about marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado leave more questions than answers. The President tells ABC news that federal agents have – quote – “bigger fish to fry” than recreational pot users.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington is currently a Democratic one party rule state. But that could change this week. A possible challenge to the Democrats' tenuous control of the Washington state senate could emerge. Senate Republicans have called a news conference Monday morning at the Capitol.

A bipartisan group of senators is expected make an announcement regarding the leadership of the state’s upper chamber. All it would take is two Democratic senators to join with Republicans to create a philosophical majority.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Pot becomes legal in Washington on Thursday. But state officials have not even begun to write the complicated rules for who can grow it, process it and sell. That year-long process begins Wednesday.

By the end of this week, adult possession of up to one ounce of usable marijuana will no longer be a crime in Washington. But Initiative 502 -- approved by voters in November -- does much more than decriminalize possession. It requires the state to license and regulate marijuana producers, processors and retailers.

Secretary of State

OLYMPIA, Wash. – In this era of mail-in balloting, political campaigns have become a bit like Santa Claus: He may know if you’ve been bad or good. But, they know whether you’ve voted yet or not - and who you’re likely to support.

Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times

The fifth and final debate between Washington’s candidates for governor was punctuated by personal attacks. Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna met in Seattle Tuesday night. The format encouraged them to engage each other.

One of the most personal exchanges came when the candidates had a chance to pose a question of each other. Republican McKenna asked Inslee to explain why the Democratic candidate has yet to pick up a single daily newspaper endorsement.

Inslee responded that he doesn’t work for the newspapers.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Ballots are about to go out in Washington. In the race for governor, both candidates are pledging to veto tax hikes. But Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee also leave themselves some wiggle room.

Simply Boaz / Flickr

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Last minute money is pouring into the ballot fight over same-sex marriage in Washington. Those dollars are buying television ads on both sides of the issue. So what claims are the campaigns making?

Gay rights advocates say Referendum 74 is about marriage equality. But the first TV ad from the Preserve Marriage Washington campaign disputes that notion.

Announcer: “Referendum 74 is not about equality. Gays and lesbians already have the same legal rights as married couples.”

As the presidential candidates prepare for tonight's debate, polls show President Obama averages a 15-point advantage in Washington over Republican rival Mitt Romney. Washington’s open race for governor is much closer.

The two candidates in that contest met Tuesday night in Yakima for a fiery third debate. But the polls highlight a reality for Republican Rob McKenna: he’ll have to woo a good number of Obama voters if he’s to become Washington’s first GOP governor in nearly 30 years.

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington's gay marriage law is now on hold.

Preserve Marriage Washington submitted more than 200,000 signatures Wednesday, blocking the law from taking effect on Thursday.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington’s jobless rate continues to inch downward. The April numbers out Wednesday put unemployment at 8.1 percent . That’s down from 8.3 percent in March. Most of April’s job growth was in manufacturing.

State economist Dave Wallace says so far 2012 is proving to be a recovery year in Washington.

Austin Jenkins / KPLU

GRAND MOUND, Wash. - Great Wolf Resorts is a Wisconsin-based chain of indoor water parks and hotels. Four years ago, the company expanded what it calls its “paw print” to the Northwest.

It opened its first west coast property at Grand Mound, Washington south of Olympia. The state of Washington declared the resort tax exempt because Great Wolf partnered with the Chehalis Indian Tribe.

Now, Correspondent Austin Jenkins has obtained internal state documents that question that tax-free status – potentially worth tens of millions of dollars.

Since the 1970s, U.S. policy toward American Indian tribes has been to encourage economic independence. Tribal casinos are probably the most visible symbol of that policy.

These days, tribes are diversifying into other businesses. In 2005, the Chehalis Indian tribe in southwest Washington partnered with a Wisconsin-based water park chain to build a destination resort. The state of Washington, in turn, granted the project tax exempt status. But now, internal state documents question whether Great Wolf Lodge really is a tribal entity and eligible for favorable tax treatment.

AP

OLYMPIA - Washington Governor Chris Gregoire is emerging as an unlikely gay rights activist - both at home and on the national stage. Her role in helping pass a same-sex marriage law this year has made Gregoire a sought-after spokesperson for the movement.

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash – Northwest gay rights supporters are cheering President Obama’s comments that he thinks same sex couples should be able to marry. But organizers of a petition drive to repeal Washington’s new marriage equality law hope to capitalize on the President’s new stance.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The burgeoning roll-your-own cigarette industry in Washington is preparing to do legal battle against the state. Governor Chris Gregoire is expected to sign into law today a new tax on do-it-yourself smokes. That will likely trigger a lawsuit.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Governor Gregoire played the role of negotiator-in-chief. Her shuttle diplomacy finally brought the Washington House and Senate to a bipartisan go-home deal. Lawmakers needed some extra time on the clock. But they were able to pass a budget that closes a half-billion dollar budget shortfall.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The three Washington Senate Democrats who broke from their caucus last month to vote with Republicans face renewed criticism - from their fellow Democrats. At issue is whether to link a series of government reforms to a plan to rebalance the state budget.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – We’re hearing a lot these days about Super PACS and who’s funding them. At the state level, Washington gets high marks for requiring full disclosure of who’s bankrolling political campaigns. Even so, a new public radio study highlights weaknesses in Washington – especially when it comes to transparency.

It’s not always so easy to follow the money.

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