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

OLYMPIA, Wash. – JPMorgan Chase charges Washington approximately 700-thousand dollars a month to issue food and cash welfare benefits via debit card. But public records show Washington is paying a premium compared to other states. Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins continues our coverage of Washington’s electronic benefits program.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington spends nearly four times what Michigan does to provide food and cash benefits via debit card. That’s just one of the findings in a recent survey of what states are paying large financial institutions to provide welfare benefits electronically.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington’s former prisons chief has admitted to an extramarital affair with a subordinate. And Seattle TV stations are airing video they say shows Eldon Vail leaving a motel with that staffer. Vail resigned suddenly last Friday.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington has begun to deport some prison inmates before their sentences are up. The new program is expected to save $2 million a year. But the deportations have immigrant rights advocates concerned.

Washington DOC

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington's prisons chief has resigned suddenly citing personal reasons. The announcement late Friday came the same week an inmate was fatally shot during a prison escape attempt.

Governor Chris Gregoire's staff says she did not ask Eldon Vail to tender his resignation.

Associated Press

One of the three teens convicted of killing a popular Seattle street musician in 2008 continues to make headlines for his tangles with the law. Billy Chambers – who's now an adult – was most recently locked up for hit-and-run. It turns out he did not qualify for supervision by a juvenile parole officer because of state budget cuts.

Austin Jenkins. / Northwest News Network

LACEY, Wash. – Over the past year, we've brought you several stories about soldiers struggling in their transition home from war – some have gotten in trouble with the law, others even died tragically. Today, we hear another kind of story. It's about an Army captain who battled back from a grave injury and recently graduated from business school.

As the neighbor dogs carry on, Brian Giroux drives nails into a storage shed he's constructing in his back yard.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington voters will select a new Secretary of State in 2012. Republican Sam Reed announced [today] Tuesday that he will retire at the end of his third term and not seek re-election.

Reed has held elective office for 35 years, first as Thurston County Auditor. He says he's disappointed he didn't get to usher in the era of Internet-based voting.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The Washington Department of Corrections failed to adequately supervise Maurice Clemmons from the day he arrived in Washington from Arkansas. That's the conclusion of a former corrections supervisor who's now an expert witness in a new lawsuit against the Department.

Washington State Parks

The true cost of the new annual pass for Washington state parks will be $30 plus fees, when purchased online or at a licensed dealer.

Associated Press

The Seattle terror plot federal authorities say they foiled this week may have been fueled – in part – by alleged war crimes committed by Washington-based soldiers. Court documents indicate one of the terrorism suspects referred to alleged "atrocities" by soldiers charged in the so-called "kill team" case.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A Pulitzer prize winning journalist who is in this country illegally managed to obtain a Washington driver license – even though he doesn't live in Washington. How did he do it?

This week in the New York Times Magazine, journalist Jose Antonio Vargas revealed himself as an illegal immigrant from the Philippines. Part of his story involves obtaining a Washington driver license earlier this year – even though he doesn't reside in the state.

Chantal Anderson / Northwest News Network

Lisa Hallett was cradling her 2-week-old daughter at a military family support meeting when a commander called her out of the room.

"There’s just this panic. And we walk across this big field. We're in one building, we're going to this other building and I'm like tell me John's okay, tell me John's okay."

But he wasn’t.

Washington lawmakers left town last month with a balanced budget and $700 million in a reserve fund. However, the revenue forecast for Washington released today erases most of that cushion.

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire says JP Morgan Chase must figure out a way to make their ATMs warn welfare clients of an 85-cent fee to withdraw cash. The governor made her comments Wednesday after she declined to veto the disclosure requirement.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington's first official candidate for governor in 2012 says he supports a parental consent requirement for abortion. Republican Rob McKenna weighed in on several hot button social issues in an interview Thursday.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – JP Morgan Chase, the second largest bank in the country, is lobbying Gov. Chris Gregoire to line-item veto a requirement that the bank alert Washington cash assistance clients of an ATM fee the bank charges.

It’s do-or-die week in the Washington Legislature. A budget deal will have to come together over the next several days if lawmakers are to finish business within the 30-day special session.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Public records show JP Morgan Chase is collecting more than $100,000 a month in ATM fees from welfare recipients in Washington. But the bank doesn't disclose the fee at the cash machine. This is happening at the same time the state has cut the monthly benefit for families on welfare and individuals in the Disability Lifeline program.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Here's a soldier's tale. Bill Surwillo deploys to Afghanistan. Nearly a quarter of his platoon is killed. He comes home with PTSD. He turns to marijuana and spice – a synthetic version of the drug – to relax. The Army kicks him out and takes away his GI Bill. Is this fair?

Miriam Duerr / Washington Dept. of Ecology

It's 14 years off in the future. But a compromise deal will shut down the Northwest's largest coal-fired power plant near Centralia. Legislation is headed to the governor's desk following a vote Thursday in the Washington senate.

An April 13th bill signing ceremony in Olympia presented a strange scene. Governor Chris Gregoire was surrounded by a motley crew of leather-clad bikers. They were there to watch her sign into law a ban on police officers profiling motorcycle riders. It was a lighthearted affair.

But some police officers aren't laughing. In fact, they're furious. One of the bikers in the room that day killed a Portland cop 30 years ago. But  the story gets even more complicated. It would take a cop's eyes to pick him out of the crowd.  It was Robert "Pigpen" Christopher, a longtime member of the Outsiders Motorcycle Club with chapters in Portland and Tacoma.

The Washington legislature is headed for an overtime session. The Senate late Monday approved its plan to close a 5-billion dollar budget shortfall. But it is unlikely differences between the House and Senate can be reconciled by this Sunday’s Easter deadline.

Austin Jenkins / N3

Teachers and other public school employees in Washington could face a 3% pay cut. That’s one of the key cost-saving measures contained in the State Senate’s two-year budget proposal. It was unveiled late Tuesday.

The State Senate has approved a controversial proposal to base teacher lay-offs on performance - not seniority. The vote late Tuesday triggered a heated debate on the Senate floor and split majority Democrats. Senator Rodney Tom is a suburban Seattle Democrat. He led the charge for performance-based lay-offs:

“Why in the world would you ever lay-off a second year or third year or fourth year teacher of the year in lieu of maybe an eight or ninth year teacher who is on probation? It just makes no sense.”

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

This week we're taking a look at what police say is a resurgence of gang activity - especially in rural areas. In part one of our series “Living In Gangland," we go on patrol with a Washington Fish and Wildlife cop. 

Gang violence is mostly a big city problem. But in parts of the rural Northwest, police are grappling with gang rivalries, graffiti and even drive-by shootings.

Just ask Darin Smith, chief of police in Royal City, Washington, population 2,000.

A week of protests over state budget cuts culminated with a large union-led rally Friday at the Capitol in Olympia.

The State Patrol estimated the crowd at 7,000 people. There were signs and chants, and a sea of unionized workers on the steps to the Capitol and Supreme Court. 

Washington House Democrats are considering a plan to lease the state's liquor distribution system for $300 million cash up front. But it wouldn't come cheap.

Initially, the deal could cost the state 80 percent of what it currently collects from the wholesale distribution of booze. That's according to a memo marked "highly confidential." It comes from a newly formed company called Washington Beverage and outlines a proposal to take over from the state the distribution of hard liquor throughout Washington.

Washington House Democrats have unveiled a plan to close a $5 billion shortfall over the next two years. The plan released Monday would close a $5 billion shortfall and yet still manage to save several programs the governor proposed to eliminate.

It would privatize the state’s liquor distribution center and impose a $10 state park fee. It would also allow for the early release of some prison inmates. House Budget Chair Ross Hunter (D-Medina) calls it a responsible and sustainable budget.

Ted S. Warren / AP

A German news publication says it’s obtained a copy of a secret Army investigation into leadership problems within the 5th Stryker Brigade. One soldier from this Joint Base Lewis-McChord based unit has pleaded guilty. Four others are charged with war crimes including the murder of innocent Afghan civilians. 

Pages