Austin Jenkins

Olympia Correspondent

Austin Jenkins, KPLU’s and N3’s Olympia Reporter, has been covering the Washington State Legislature and regional public policy issues since 2004. Prior to becoming a public radio reporter, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise – to name just a few of his stops. Austin grew up in Seattle and is a graduate of Connecticut College. Austin’s memorable moment in public radio: “There are too many to pick just one: Covering Washington’s contested 2004 gubernatorial election, flying in an Army Reserve Chinook helicopter to the top of Mt. Rainier, spending 24-hours on a tug boat on the Snake River, the list goes on.”  You can also track all the current events at Washinton's capitol on Austin's blog, The Washington Ledge.

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Environment
3:12 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Northwest's largest coal-fired plant to shut down by 2025

File photo of the TransAlta coal plant in Centralia
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.

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LAW
5:44 pm
Wed April 20, 2011

New motorcycle law dredges up 30-year-old cop killing

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.

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STATE BUDGET CRISIS
6:57 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Marchers arrive at state capitol as special session looms

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.

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State Budget
8:44 am
Wed April 13, 2011

Senate proposes pay cut for school employees

In a rare display of bipartisanship, budget Chair Ed Murray, D-Seattle (on the left) co-wrote the Senate’s budget proposal with ranking Republican Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield
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.

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Education
8:06 am
Wed April 13, 2011

Senate approves performance-based teacher lay-offs

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.”

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Living in Gangland
10:37 am
Mon April 11, 2011

Rural gangs claim public lands

Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife officer Chad McGary briefly detains a self-described gang member who was fishing with friends
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.

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Budget Cut Protests
10:46 am
Sat April 9, 2011

Thousands of union members rally in Olympia

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. 

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State Budget Crisis
3:07 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

Confidential memo outlines details of state proposal to lease liquor distribution

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.

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Washington State Legislature
3:15 pm
Mon April 4, 2011

State House Democrats roll out their budget

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.

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Afghan Civilian Killings
1:28 pm
Mon April 4, 2011

German news agency obtains secret 5th Stryker Brigade report

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, right, exits a Stryker combat vehicle, in 2008, during a visit to Fort Lewis, Wash. Col. Harry Tunnell, left, commander of the Army's 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Div., showed Gates various Styrker vehicles.
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. 

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Military & Defense
2:51 am
Tue March 29, 2011

Rolling Stone releases photos in alleged war crime cases of JBLM soldiers

Rolling Stone magazine has published several more grisly photographs related to the war crimes case unfolding at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The release comes just one week after a German magazine was the first to publish photos. The Army had sought to keep the pictures under wraps for fear they could trigger a backlash against U.S. troops.

Last week’s photographs showed soldiers posing with a dead Afghan named Gul Mudin. Rolling Stone now reports he was an unarmed 15-year old boy, the first of three victims allegedly killed by members of a rogue platoon from Western Washington.

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Debtor’s prison
6:07 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

Debtor’s proposal: no get out of jail free card

A follow up now to a story we brought you last fall on people who are sent to jail for failing to pay their debts, like a medical bill. A proposal moving through the legislature would toughen standards for debt collection agencies. It wouldn’t ban the practice of jailing people who owe money.

Last September, we introduced you to Janelle Leslie of Newport near Spokane. She described the night she called the police for help and ended up getting arrested for a warrant she didn’t know about.

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Washington State Legislature
3:05 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

State representative from SW Washington abruptly resigns

A member of the state House has suddenly resigned his seat. Democrat Jim Jacks of Hazel Dell in Southwest Washington departed the legislature Friday without any public announcement.

The Chief Clerk of the House says there were no formal complaints pending against Jacks. 

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Afghan War Crimes
7:55 am
Thu March 24, 2011

Soldier sentenced to 24 years for war crimes

Attorney Frank Spinner, left, and other members of Spc. Jeremy Morlock’s defense team speak with reporters following Morlock’s sentencing.
Austin Jenkins N3

A Washington-based soldier has been sentenced to 24-years in prison for killing unarmed civilians in Afghanistan. Specialist Jeremy Morlock pleaded guilty to three counts of premeditated murder and other crimes.

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State Budget Crisis
8:12 am
Fri March 18, 2011

Partisan divide flares as state budget worsens

Washington's budget shortfall has grown to more than $5 billion. That's after Thursday's state revenue forecast. Advocates on the left immediately intensified their calls for lawmakers to end corporate tax exemptions. The Governor warned the legislature to avoid budget gimmicks.

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