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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Arthur Longworth is 35 years into a life without parole sentence for aggravated murder. He’s currently housed in Cell Block A, a medium security unit at the Monroe Correctional Complex, a hundred-year-old prison that’s been featured in movies. 

“It’s four tiers high, 40 cells long, which is about as far as you can see, and higher than you’d want to fall if you fell off the fourth tier,” said Longworth, who is an award-winning prison writer

While he has a single cell, Longworth said many of the six-by-nine cells hold two men. A couple of weeks ago, they were all put on quarantine after a prison staffer tested positive for COVID-19.

In these times of uncertainty and upheaval amidst a global pandemic, Dr. Jessica Van Fleet-Green had reason to celebrate recently.

After three weeks of wearing the same N95 mask on her rounds at ManorCare of Lacey, a 120-bed nursing home near Olympia where she’s the medical director, she had managed to acquire a new mask.

“[F]eeling fresh as a daisy in a brand new stylish mask that was donated!” Van Fleet-Green wrote in an Instagram post featuring a photo of herself in the mask.

Advocates for people incarcerated in Washington prisons have filed a petition with the state Supreme Court seeking the immediate release of some inmates to reduce the risk of a coronavirus outbreak behind bars.

Following the lead of California and several other states and local communities, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday evening announced an immediate statewide "stay-at-home" order that will last for at least two weeks. It requires all residents of Washington to remain at home unless they are conducting essential business or taking a break for some fresh air.

As the state of Washington’s epidemiologist for communicable diseases, Dr. Scott Lindquist’s job is to study and try to control the spread of disease.

But these days he’s operating more like a logistics officer in the military. His phone is blowing up with calls from local public health officials on the frontlines of the battle against coronavirus. They’re asking for help in procuring the personal protective equipment (PPE) that healthcare workers need to test and treat patients.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said he wants to avoid imposing a statewide shelter-in-place order, as governors in California and elsewhere have done recently. But he said this will necessitate further voluntary reductions in social interactions by Washingtonians.

The Democratic governor used an unusually stern tone in a media briefing from his office at the state Capitol late Friday, saying "some progress" has been made to slow the coronavirus outbreak, but that "we have not done enough."

When COVID-19 got a toehold at Life Care Center of Kirkland, the results were devastating. Thirty-five people associated with that one facility have died, accounting for roughly half the deaths from the aggressive virus in Washington.

But it’s not just nursing homes and assisted living facilities, with their older and sicker populations, that are at heightened risk for a coronavirus outbreak. Any communal facility where a group of people are living, eating and sleeping together – from homeless shelters to group homes to jails and prisons to state mental hospitals – is a potential breeding ground for the virus.

At Pioneer Family Practice in Lacey, Washington, if a patient calls and reports symptoms consistent with coronavirus, they’re instructed to drive to the clinic and wait in their car. A doctor then walks out to meet the patient in the parking lot, conducts an exam and, if warranted, swabs their nose to test for COVID-19.

Even as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee uses his emergency powers to restrict gatherings of more than 50 people and orders the closure of bars, restaurants and other gathering spaces for at least the next two weeks, state agencies are scrambling to implement emergency measures to protect their employees and those they serve from the rapid spread of coronavirus. 

Joining states like California, Ohio and Illinois, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Sunday night announced plans to order the temporary closure of restaurants, bars, entertainment and recreational facilities, as well as restrictions on gatherings to no more than 50 people, as the state continues to battle what he called an "explosion of COVID-19 in our state and globally." 

What a difference 60 days makes. When Washington lawmakers arrived in Olympia in mid-January for a short, two month election year session, the state’s economy was riding high, homelessness and housing were top of mind and there was talk of trying to expel Republican state Rep. Matt Shea from the House.

As the Legislature adjourned Thursday, 60 days felt like a lifetime ago. A surreal “new normal” had taken hold as Washington finds itself in the grips of a global coronavirus pandemic -- which poses a threat not just to the public, but also to the economy and to state revenues.

So what transpired over the last two months? With Democrats in control of both the House and Senate, here’s a look at some of the higher-profile bills that passed and didn’t pass during the 2020 session.

Warning that the number of coronavirus cases in Washington could double weekly, Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday indicated that mandatory social-distancing measures could be announced this week and, in the meantime, imposed new restrictions on nursing homes.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says mandatory social distancing measures may be required to stem the spread of coronavirus.

"We are contemplating some next steps, particularly to protect our vulnerable populations and our nursing homes and [the] like and we are looking to determine whether mandatory measures are required," Inslee said in an interview Sunday morning with CBS's "Face the Nation."

While touring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Friday, President Donald Trump called Washington Gov. Jay Inslee "a snake.”

The president’s comments, which were captured on video, came one day after Vice President Mike Pence visited Washington state to address the growing coronavirus crisis. During that visit, both Pence and Inslee were complimentary of each other.

As the death toll climbs and the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Washington tops 70, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to the state Thursday to tour the Military Department’s Emergency Operations Center, meet with Gov. Jay Inslee and other elected leaders and announce the arrival of a shipment of supplies for healthcare workers from the Strategic National Stockpile in Atlanta.

As the death toll rises, Washington’s Secretary of Health is asking state lawmakers for $100 million in emergency funds to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. That’s a 10-fold increase over what the Washington Senate approved just last week.

“We know we’ve got the coronavirus in our community, we know that we’re having some community spread, we know that the risk is increasing,” Sec. of Health John Wiesman told the Senate Ways and Means Committee Monday morning.

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. 

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