Austin Jenkins | KUOW News and Information

Austin Jenkins

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. His 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. Austin is the recipient of the 2016 Excellence in Journalism Award from the Washington State Association for Justice.

Washington’s new DUI law borrows an idea from South Dakota. Starting in January, as many as three Washington counties and two cities will pilot a 24/7 alcohol monitoring program. That could mean offenders wearing high-tech bracelets.

Ignition interlock devices are standard these days for drunk drivers. But there are ways around them. So technology to the rescue.

Home canning is regaining popularity as part of the local food movement. If done right, families can enjoy home grown fruits, vegetables and even meat all through the winter. But if done wrong it can be devastating, if not deadly.

A lawyer for the state of Washington recently learned that lesson the hard way.

Second-time drunk drivers in Washington will go directly to jail. They’ll also be required to get an ignition interlock device within five days.

Those are just two of the provisions in a sweeping new DUI measure signed into law Thursday. But already there are calls for even tougher penalties in the future.

The bill signing ceremony took place at a State Patrol field office. Governor Jay Inslee was flanked by police, prosecutors, lawmakers and victims.

Critics of Washington’s new $300 million data center complex have been saying for years that it was overbuilt. Now, the state acknowledges as much. In a new report, Washington’s Chief Information Officer concludes two of the four data halls will not be needed.

It was the legislative equivalent of a buzzer beater. Just as the Washington legislature was about to adjourn last month, the House and Senate quickly passed a series of tax breaks mostly for businesses. They included exemptions for dance clubs, mint growers, dairy products and this one: digital data used by international investment firms.

That last one will largely benefit a single global firm – Seattle-based Russell Investments. This tax break passed despite efforts to close these kinds of loopholes.

For more than a decade, Washington’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord has been sending soldiers off to war and welcoming them back home. Now this cycle of deployments and homecomings is winding down.

Over the next month, more than 1,000 soldiers from the 4th Stryker Brigade will return home. More than 200 were welcomed back Wednesday. And this time they don’t expect to go back to Afghanistan.

Washington lawmakers have departed the Capitol and are getting back to their normal lives. For most of them, that means going back to their regular jobs as farmers, lawyers, nurses, business owners. It’s the essence of a citizen legislature.

But this dual existence – one job as a lawmaker and another job back home - can invite conflicts of interest.

Family Matters

Nearly $500 million.

That’s how much the federal government has awarded Washington, Oregon and Idaho to create health benefit exchanges. These are the new web portals to purchase insurance under the Affordable Care Act. It’s a costly undertaking that involves six-figure salaries, hefty IT contracts and high-end advertising campaigns.

If a green, talking gecko can sell car insurance, then maybe Portland-based folk singer Laura Gibson can sell health insurance.

In what Washington Governor Jay Inslee calls "a dang shame," plans for a new bridge over the Columbia River are shelved -- if not dead. The Washington legislature adjourned without funding the construction phase of the project.

You might call the Columbia River Crossing “the bridge to the archives.” That’s where the blueprints will go now that the Washington Senate said “no” to a gas tax increase. That nixes $450 million for the new bridge over the mighty Columbia between Vancouver and Portland.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee can claim some significant legislative wins, along with several losses now that the legislature has finally adjourned. The Democrat’s first dance with lawmakers was made more difficult when Republicans and two breakaway Democrats took control of the state senate.

Let’s go all the way back to January 16th and Governor Inslee’s inaugural address. One of his biggest applause lines was his call for the legislature to pass a bill that would require health insurance companies to cover abortion.

A proposal to raise Washington’s gas tax by 10.5 cents to fund transportation projects has failed in the state House. Supporters Wednesday came up one vote short. But they vow to try again.

The transportation revenue package would raise $10 billion for maintenance and preservation of existing roads and to fund new projects. The proposal calls for a 6 cent gas tax increase this summer followed by another 4.5 cent increase next July.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee says a budget deal in Olympia is “imminent” – even as state workers start to receive layoff notices. At a news conference Monday afternoon, the Democrat reported significant breakthroughs in budget negotiations.

A shutdown of state government is now one week away. That’s why temporary layoff notices are going out to state employees. That’s a requirement of labor contracts. Governor Inslee says he feels “enormous frustration” there wasn’t a budget deal in time to avert the notices.

The push is on to get a final budget deal in Olympia. Top legislative leaders met Thursday to see if they could bridge their final differences. Meanwhile, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of what a July 1 government shutdown would look like if there’s no agreement.

The governor’s office says without a new budget, 34 state agencies and commissions would completely shut down on July 1st. Another 24 would partially shutter. On the closure list: state parks, the lottery, and some mental health services.

Licensed outdoor marijuana grows may be allowed in Washington after all.

Staff at the state’s Liquor Control Board said Wednesday they’ve been persuaded by potential growers to consider alternatives to energy-intensive indoor pot production. Meanwhile, medical marijuana patients rallied at the state capitol in opposition possible new restrictions on them.

There’s suddenly a flurry of talk in Olympia about a quick resolution to the weeks-long budget stalemate. The change in rhetoric follows Tuesday’s positive revenue and caseload forecasts.

Budget writers will now have an additional $300 million-plus to help bridge their differences. They can thank a recovering housing market and improved consumer confidence.

The House and Senate have been locked in a partisan fight over whether to raise additional revenues by closing some tax exemptions. This new money could now fill that gap.

Protracted budget talks in Olympia could see a breakthrough after Tuesday’s release of an updated revenue forecast. That’s the quarterly report that projects how much money will flow into state tax coffers in the coming months.

Lawmakers are expecting some positive news. A couple of hundred of million dollars to the positive could prove a game-changer in the weeks long budget stalemate.

There were dramatic developments in Olympia overnight. Governor Jay Inslee held a midnight bill signing to amend Washington’s estate tax. The move means the Department of Revenue will not begin to issue refund checks Friday morning to the heirs of some multi-million dollar estates.

The state of Washington was about to embark on a months-long process of refunding an estimated $140 million to more than 100 estates. This was the result of a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year. The money would have come out of a fund dedicated to public schools.

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 House Democrats have abandoned some proposed tax increases, but not others, in what they call a “significant compromise” budget offer to the Senate. The public unveiling Wednesday of a slimmed down House spending plan comes as the clock is running out on the current overtime session with still no budget deal.

There’s one week left in Washington’s special legislative session and still no budget deal. Governor 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.

Washington’s 30-day overtime session of the legislature ends a week from Tuesday. So far there’s no sign of a budget deal between the mostly Republican-led Senate and the Democratic House. Governor Jay Inslee is urging the two sides to pick up the pace.

House and Senate negotiators continue to meet in Olympia. But finding agreement on the next two-year budget and the policy measures to implement it remains elusive.

Lobbyists in Washington state routinely fail to properly report dinners out with lawmakers. And dinners over $50 in value do not always show up – as required – on lawmakers’ personal financial statements. Those are among the findings of a public radio investigation – conducted in cooperation with the Associated Press.

The 'Morton Rule'

When retired Senator Bob Morton was in the Washington legislature, he’d go out to lunch with a lobbyist. But he had a rule.

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

Just prior to the I-5 bridge collapse Thursday night north of Seattle, eyewitnesses report an oversized load struck a portion of the bridge’s steel superstructure. That’s the frame that’s key to holding the bridge up.

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

Washington’s Liquor Control Board has published 46-pages of proposed rules for the state’s new recreational marijuana market. But the regulations released Thursday are largely silent on two major issues: the number of business licenses that will be allowed and the size of marijuana grow operations.

The draft rules address marijuana producers, processors and retailers. On the production side, the Liquor Control Board proposes to ban outdoor marijuana grows. Pot would have to be grown within a fully enclosed secure indoor facility or greenhouse.

Washington’s proposed marijuana rules aren’t even 24-hours old. But already critics are finding things not to like. The 46-pages of draft regulations were released Thursday and 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.

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 it turns out that there’s 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.

Washington’s court system will hire an outside expert to perform a computer security review and audit. The move follows a hacking incident – revealed last week - that exposed nearly a hundred Social Security numbers and perhaps up to a million driver license numbers. But now there’s another cyber security concern at Washington Courts.

The Washington legislature is back in session – for a 30-day extra inning. Washington Governor Jay Inslee Monday narrowed his agenda to three key items: the budget, a roads-and- transit funding package and a crackdown on impaired drivers.

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