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. – The family of slain Lakewood police officer Tina Griswold has filed a notice to sue the state of Washington over its handling of Maurice Clemmons. He's the Arkansas parolee who gunned down Griswold and three of her fellow officers in a coffee shop in 2009. Clemmons was later shot dead by Seattle police.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – One of Washington’s largest health insurers faces a hefty fine for refusing to pay for the removal of a certain type of birth control device.

Regence BlueShield will pay a $100,000 penalty for improperly denying claims from nearly 1,000 women. The women had their IUDs removed because the device was outdated or they wanted to try to have a baby.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

"There's a lot of courting going on ..."

OLYMPIA, Wash. – In Washington, there are more people on Medicaid than there are kids in public school – 1.2 million. And that number will grow significantly in 2014 when the new federal health care overhaul kicks-in.

The expansion has triggered a high-stakes competition for state contracts to provide Medicaid coverage.

Police in Lakewood, Wash., are investigating the apparent suicides of two soldiers from the nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord in recent weeks. In both cases, police say the soldiers shot themselves in the presence of someone else.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – In this era of plastic, Washington still issues unemployment benefits the old fashioned way: by check. That's a stark contrast to neighboring Oregon where jobless benefits are loaded on a debit card. So what are the trade-offs?

Currently in Washington about 180,000 people are receiving unemployment. Half of them are signed up for direct deposit.

The rest get a check in the mail. It costs the state 45 cents to issue each check – most of that is postage.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Lapses in training and “serious” safety violations may have contributed to the murder of a Washington correctional officer earlier this year. Those are the findings of a six month investigation by Washington’s workplace safety watchdog.

The agency issued citations and fines Wednesday against the Department of Corrections.

Courtesy Washington State Patrol

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Three Washington-based soldiers have been killed in high-speed motorcycle accidents since April. And it turns out all three were riding the same model of high performance bike. The Washington State Patrol says the accidents were horrific and avoidable.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

BURIEN, Wash. – In Washington, nearly 300,000 drivers currently have suspended licenses – not because they've driven drunk or committed a hit-and-run, but because they failed to pay their traffic tickets.

You're about to meet three of them. Like a lot of people in their situation, they continued to drive. And that has led to more tickets, more debt and even jail.

Courtesy of the U.S. Army

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – The credibility of the prosecution's star witness is the key issue at the moment in a war crimes case unfolding at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma. A second pre-trial hearing got underway Thursday for the alleged ringleader of a group of Washington-based soldiers accused of murdering Afghan civilians.

This second hearing is a chance for the defense to call witnesses who were not previously available. Chief among them: Army Private Jeremy Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – It was a two-day buying frenzy. Retail investors snapped up nearly $90 million in Washington highway bonds Monday and Tuesday. It's the first time in more than 14 years that individual investors have had the chance to buy state bonds ahead of Wall Street.

The newest building on Washington's capitol campus came in under budget, but nonetheless remains controversial. The doors opened Monday on the office tower portion of a new $300 million data center complex.

OLYMPIA, Wash. –Construction of Washington's new $300 million data center complex is expected to wrap-up this summer. But as state agencies prepare to move in, the rent per square foot is causing some sticker shock.

Washington's litter hotline is no more. The toll free number to report people throwing trash out of their cars has fallen victim to state budget cuts.

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.