Austin Jenkins | KNKX

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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A Thurston County judge has found that anti-tax activist and Republican candidate for governor Tim Eyman concealed more than $700,000 in campaign contributions related to his initiative work over a six-year period.

The finding comes as Eyman mounts a first-ever run for public office and faces trial this summer over an alleged campaign finance kick-back scheme.

Legislation to automatically restore the voting rights of convicted felons when they are released from prison has died unexpectedly in the Washington Senate.

Majority Democrats abruptly ended debate on the controversial bill Wednesday evening when they realized they lacked the 25 votes needed to pass the measure.

Strong opposition and intense lobbying by Washington’s health insurance industry has resulted in a key change to a consumer-oriented measure designed to address rising premium costs.

The proposal from Democratic state Sen. Christine Rolfes originally aimed to require the state’s Office of Insurance Commissioner (OIC) to factor in a company’s surplus funds when deciding if a proposed rate increase was reasonable.

For nearly half a century, people with severe brain injuries have found a home in a nursing facility housed in a Swiss Chalet-style former tuberculosis hospital in Snohomish, Washington.

Delta Rehabilitation Center began as a traditional nursing home in 1959, but found its calling serving brain-injured clients in 1975 after the owners’ 20-year-old son suffered a debilitating traumatic brain injury in a car crash.

Over the decades, Delta Rehab developed a reputation as one of the few facilities in Washington willing and able to serve the unique, long-term care needs of these often younger and sometimes difficult-to-manage patients.

But now, after years of financial challenges, the third generation, family-run nursing home is preparing to close its doors. The facility’s staff was notified of the impending closure Wednesday afternoon.

Each year in Washington, opioid overdoses kill approximately 700 people. In response to this crisis, a state lawmaker is proposing to repeal a tax break that benefits opioid distributors. The money raised would fund drug treatment services. 

In recent years, people who buy health insurance on the individual market have experienced steep premium hikes, higher deductibles and increases in other out-of-pocket expenses. At the same time, Washington’s three biggest nonprofit insurers have amassed nearly $4.5 billion dollars in surpluses.

Update: On Tuesday, February 4, Democratic leaders in the Washington House said the open-carry ban was unlikely to advance this year because it was introduced late in the session. The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Tana Senn, said she plans to reintroduce the bill next year.

Following an unpermitted pro-gun rally, a Democratic state lawmaker has introduced legislation to ban openly-carried guns on Washington's Capitol grounds. 

State Rep. Tana Senn of Mercer Island said she filed her bill Monday, just days before a key cut-off deadline, after witnessing what she described as an "unsafe work environment" at the Capitol last Friday. 

Nearly a year-and-a-half after a series of vicious patient-on-staff attacks, including one that cost a nurse part of her ear, Western State Hospital is poised to open a new unit to treat its 10 most violence-prone patients. 

The Specialized Treatment, Assessment and Recovery (STAR) ward is slated to begin accepting patients next Monday.

Washington could become the fourth state in the nation to outlaw race-based hair discrimination, after New York, New Jersey and California.

On Tuesday, a panel of state lawmakers heard passionate -- and unanimous -- testimony in favor of legislation that would define race to include traits such as hair texture and hairstyles like Afros, braids, locs and twists.

Washington lawmakers are tackling a variety of weighty issues this year from homelessness to prescription drug pricing to transportation funding to …. the legality of kids’ lemonade stands.

That’s right, lemonade stands are on the agenda for the 2020 legislative session in Olympia.

Citing the case of a high school wrestler in New Jersey who was forced to cut his locs before he could compete, a Washington state lawmaker is proposing legislation to protect certain hairstyles under Washington’s anti-discrimination law.

Despite a push by Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a ban on so-called “assault weapons” appears unlikely to pass the Washington Legislature this year.

“Just so you know, it’s not just this simple ‘hey ban assault weapons,'" Speaker of the House Laurie Jinkins, a Democrat, said during a media availability with reporters on Tuesday. 

A gun rally in Virginia on Monday drew thousands of people and national attention. But guns were also on the agenda at the Washington state Capitol following a smaller pro-gun rally in Olympia on Friday. 

People on both sides of the gun control debate packed a Senate hearing room to testify on measures to restrict magazine capacity, require training for concealed pistol permit holders and increase penalties for stolen firearms.

Washington state Rep. Matt Shea, a Spokane Valley Republican, has been accused of participating in an act of domestic terrorism prompting top elected officials to call on him to resign. But Friday, Shea found strong support at a gun rights rally at the state Capitol. 

Accused in a House investigation of participating in an act of domestic terrorism, Washington state Rep. Matt Shea of Spokane Valley defiantly returned to the Capitol on Monday -- spurning calls for him to resign -- and declared: "I'm not going to quit, I'm not going to back down."

When Washington lawmakers convene a short, election year session on Monday, they’ll confront a range of issues from homelessness to gun control to whether to expel state Rep. Matt Shea.

But first, the 60 day session will begin with a historic vote and swearing-in ceremony of Democratic state Rep. Laurie Jinkins. She will become the state’s first woman speaker of the House and only the second openly lesbian House speaker in the nation after Oregon’s Tina Kotek.

Just before 3 a.m. on Feb. 27, 2019, an overnight caregiver woke up Marion Wilson, a developmentally disabled 64-year-old, so that she could be given a second round of colonoscopy prep medication.

Wilson, who relied on a wheelchair and was said to have the intellectual capabilities of a five-year-old, was scheduled to have the procedure later that same morning. After escorting Wilson to the bathroom, a second caregiver went to the kitchen to retrieve the remaining half gallon of bowel prep that Wilson was supposed to consume prior to the procedure.

But instead of retrieving the GoLYTELY solution from a “squared-off” plastic jug in the refrigerator, it’s believed the caregiver grabbed a round, gallon-sized jug of Heinz All Natural Cleaning Vinegar.

Lorenzo Hayes, 37, was brought to the Spokane County Jail on the morning of May 13, 2015 for violating a domestic violence no contact order.

As officers escorted Hayes to a holding cell, there was a struggle. Jail staff took him to the ground and then placed him in a restraint chair. At some point, he stopped breathing.

Responding firefighters and paramedics performed CPR and got a heartbeat back, but Hayes later died at the hospital.

The recently released 108-page investigation detailing Washington state Rep. Matt Shea’s connections to militia groups and extremist activities has prompted his own caucus to exile him and the House Republican leader to call for Shea’s resignation.

In response, Shea took to Facebook to denounce the investigation as a "sham" and declare: “I will not back down, I will not give in, I will not resign.” Shea has also said that all of his communications have been lawful.

The top-line conclusions of the investigation are that Shea is a prominent leader in the Patriot Movement, played a role in planning three armed conflicts in the American West, including the 2016 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, and that his actions have put law enforcement officers in danger of political violence.

Buried in the report are a number of details and revelations that give readers an inside look at how Shea reportedly operates behind the scenes. It’s a world of code names, encrypted communications and military-style directives.

Here are 15 easily-missed excerpts:

State Rep. Matt Shea speaks at a 51st state rally in the Capitol in February.
Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

The top Republican in the Washington House of Representatives is calling on state Rep. Matt Shea to step down following the release of an explosive independent investigation that alleges Shea, a Spokane Valley Republican, is a “prominent leader” of the Patriot Movement who engaged in “irresponsible and possibly illegal activities.”  The investigation alleges Shea played a role in three armed conflicts.

In a 7-to-2 decision, the Washington Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that individual state lawmakers are subject to the state’s Public Records Act (PRA) and therefore must disclose records such as emails and calendars. 

In doing so, the high court upheld a lower court ruling and delivered a significant victory to media outlets that sued over access to lawmaker records. 

The public radio Northwest News Network was a plaintiff in the lawsuit which was led by the Associated Press. 

The Medicaid fraud division of the Washington Attorney General’s office is conducting a criminal investigation into the death of a developmentally disabled woman who died last February in Spokane.

The existence of the state’s investigation, which began in August, has not been previously reported. The Spokane Police Department said it contacted the Attorney General's office after deciding not to investigate the case itself. That decision came after the Spokane County Medical Examiner ruled the death an accident. 

In a barrier-breaking appointment, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has selected a Whatcom County judge to serve as the first known Native American justice on the state Supreme Court since its founding in 1889.

Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis, 51, who is an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Isleta tribe of New Mexico, will replace Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst when she retires in January.

In the shadow of Washington’s Capitol dome is a broad boulevard -- called Deschutes Parkway -- with a popular walking and running path that curves along Capitol Lake and links the city of Olympia to the neighboring city of Tumwater.

The parkway, the adjacent lake and nearby Marathon Park are technically part of Washington’s expansive Capitol campus complex.

It’s along this picturesque stretch of road, where parking is not restricted, that in recent months motorhomes, trailers and campers in various states of disrepair have begun to take up residence.

As families of people with developmental disabilities in Washington struggle to get access to state-paid services, there’s a renewed push to link funding increases to growth in population.

Currently, nearly 14,000 people who meet the state’s criteria as developmentally disabled are not receiving services. They’re on what’s known as the no-paid services caseload.

The state of Washington has agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of a 29-year-old man who died by suicide in an isolation cell at the Airway Heights Corrections Center near Spokane in May 2014.

The settlement was announced Wednesday by the Galanda Broadman law firm in Seattle which represented the estate of Morgan Bluehorse.

Washington voters have said “no” to an effort to restore affirmative action in the state.

The Associated Press declared Referendum 88 rejected late Tuesday afternoon, one week after Election Day. Soon after, the pro-affirmative action Washington Fairness Coalition sent out a concession statement.

Keiro Northwest Rehabilitation and Care Center is one of nearly 20 skilled nursing facilities to close in Washington over the past nearly three years.
Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

In response to a rash of nursing home closures in Washington, a Republican state senator is calling for an increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates and other steps to stave off additional closures.

“We are in a crisis of skilled nursing facilities and beds,” said Sen. Steve O’Ban, a Pierce County Republican.

In a potential rejection of a vote earlier this year by state lawmakers, Washington voters on Tuesday evening were narrowly saying “no” to restoring affirmative action in the state.

The vote to reject Referendum 88 and overturn Initiative 1000, the affirmative action measure that previously passed the Legislature, was 51 percent to 49 percent as of 10 p.m.

In this April 18 file photo, former Washington governors (from left) Dan Evans, Chris Gregoire, and Gary Locke sit together before testifying in favor of Initiative 1000 before a joint Washington state House and Senate committee in Olympia.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

In 1998, Washington voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 200, which effectively ended affirmative action in the state.

Now, 21 years later, voters in the Nov. 5 general election will once again have a chance to weigh in on the issue. The vote will test whether attitudes about affirmative action have changed over the past two decades.

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