Karen DeWitt

Capitol Bureau Correspondent, Albany

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.

She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now.  She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers. 

Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.

She is a past recipient of the prestigious Walter T. Brown Memorial award for excellence in journalism, from the Legislative Correspondents Association, and was named Media Person of the Year for 2009 by the Women’s Press Club of New York State.

Karen is a graduate of the State University of New York at Geneseo.

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New York Now / WMHT

Judith Enck, the former regional administrator of the EPA under President Barack Obama, said the new head of the EPA under President Donald Trump threatens to roll back major environmental regulations, including climate change actions and pollution protections.

In an interview for public radio and television, Enck explained why she took the unprecedented step of signing on to a letter, along with hundreds of former EPA staff, protesting Scott Pruitt.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The Trump administration’s decision to rescind protections for transgender students will not affect New York state, according to the state’s education commissioner and legal experts. But they say the action nevertheless sends a “terrible message” to transgender teens.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News File Photo

The state Legislature is off this week, but the session so far has featured an unusual amount of protests and arrests, and more actions are expected when lawmakers return. 

Twice in the first few weeks of the 2017 legislative session, protesters have been arrested at the state Capitol.

Eight people were arrested in late January. They were demonstrating against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s veto of a bill that would have provided funding for legal services for indigent New Yorkers.

“We want lawyers!” they shouted.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

A leading budget watchdog group is accusing Gov. Andrew Cuomo of fudging the numbers in his state budget to appear to stay within his self-imposed two percent per-year spending cap.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Some upstate lawmakers are asking the state to step in and fund refugee resettlement programs that they said have been caught up in President Donald Trump’s travel ban and the resulting chaos.

The federal government funds refugee resettlement centers in upstate New York cities. But under the rules, the money for staff is based on the number of refugees coming in. When Trump’s travel ban briefly froze the entry of refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, the funding for the resettlement centers dried up, too.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is pushing for a measure to stop treating 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the state’s criminal justice system.

Heastie said the proposals would take 16- and 17-year-olds out of the adult criminal justice system and treat them as juveniles in family court. Heastie, the first African-American speaker, said this is a personal issue for him.

“It’s embarrassing,” Heastie said. “For me, as a speaker of color, it’s hurtful to me that New York and North Carolina are the only ones who still treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.”

Matt Ryan / New York Now

Environmental groups are pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to codify into law some of the steps he’s taken to protect the environment and cut down on pollution related to climate change. At a budget hearing Monday, lawmakers were focused on a more immediate concern — clean drinking water.

Legislative budget hearings were interrupted once again, this time by anti-climate change activists shouting that they want “climate justice in the budget.”

nysenate.gov

The leader of the Senate Republicans said he’s against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to require local governments in each county to offer government consolidation plans to go before voters in November.

Senate Leader John Flanagan told a meeting of the state’s mayors that the governor’s proposal, while “laudable in its intent,” is too “convoluted” and forces local voters to dive too deeply into the sausage-making of local government.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

With the confirmation of Rowan Wilson to the New York State Court of Appeals, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has now picked all of the judges on the state’s highest court. He’s the first governor to do so since his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.

New York State Senate

A faction of breakaway Democrats in the New York State Senate has been gaining members lately, but they are now facing a backlash, including raucous opposition at meetings in their districts.

When Sen. Jose Peralta announced on his Facebook page that he was joining the Independent Democratic Conference, a growing group of breakaway Democrats in the Senate who form a governing coalition with the Republicans, he said he wanted to “deliver a progressive agenda.”

What Peralta did not expect was a backlash in his Queens district.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the leader of the state Senate are not as enthusiastic about making New York a sanctuary state as are Assembly Democrats, who passed a bill earlier this week.

Cuomo, who has spoken out strongly for immigrants and against President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, is not committing right now to support a bill to designate New York as a sanctuary state for immigrants.

“We have to review the bill because exactly what a sanctuary state is, is a little ambiguous,” Cuomo said in Schenectady on Wednesday.

Jim Bowen / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s acting tax commissioner took heat Tuesday from Democrats and Republicans in the state Legislature over delays in the STAR rebate program. The hearing was interrupted by protesters who want higher taxes on millionaires.

Lawmakers changed the rules of the STAR school property tax rebates so that new homeowners would get their rebates by the end of September to use them toward their tax bills. That was September 2016. Five months later, some senators and Assembly members say they are hearing from constituents who still have not received their money.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The New York Assembly moved Monday to establish New York as a sanctuary state, but the measure faces an uncertain future in the state Senate.

Assembly Democrats are backing measures that would give the entire state sanctuary status for immigrants.

Matt Ryan / New York Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to pass an amendment enshrining the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 abortion decision Roe v. Wade into the state’s constitution is not gaining much traction in the state Senate.

Cuomo announced his plan at a Planned Parenthood rally but has so far offered no details. An effort to pass a law codifying the rights in Roe v. Wade has stalled in the Senate for years.

nysenate.gov

New York State Senate Leader John Flanagan said he’s not running for governor right now, but in an interview with New York state public radio and television, he admitted that he’s thought about it from time to time.

Flanagan, a Republican from Long Island, said in “real life,” he’s occupied full time with leading the Senate, where Republicans rule in conjunction with several independent Democrats.

“That is my absolute, overarching No. 1 priority,” Flanagan said.

Matt Ryan / WMHT File Photo

Lawmakers grilled Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s economic development chair Wednesday at a budget hearing, as some of the programs are embroiled in a corruption scandal that’s led to charges against several former associates of the governor.

Nine people have pleaded guilty or been indicted in connection with alleged bid-rigging and other corruption charges involving some of Cuomo’s economic development programs. They face trial later this year.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Eight protesters were arrested outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office Tuesday as they called for more money for legal aid services for the state’s poorest.

Protesters chanted, “What do we want? Lawyers,” and blockaded an entrance to Cuomo’s suite of offices at the Capitol.

After years of what critics say was underfunding legal aid for New York’s lowest-income people, the Senate and Assembly passed a bill in 2016 to create a state-funded system to ensure that indigent criminal defendants receive legal representation, as is their right under the U.S. Constitution.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo told a crowd of cheering Planned Parenthood advocates that he’s proposing an amendment to put protections from the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade into the state’s constitution.

Jim Bowen / Flickr

An upstate business group is pleased with some portions of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2017 agenda, especially a plan to expand ride-hailing services.

Unshackle Upstate’s Greg Biryla said he’s relieved that there are no major proposals that would adversely affect employers this year, like last year’s minimum wage increase and requirement to provide paid family leave.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is offering his top attorneys to help defend detainees and their families affected by President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

More than a decade after the state’s highest court ordered New York lawmakers to spend billions more a year on schools, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his top aides are moving further away from ever fulfilling the order, critics say.

The New York Court of Appeals ruled in 2006 that many of the state’s schoolchildren were deprived of their constitutional right to a “sound, basic education” and that billions more needed to be spent on schools each year.

-JvL- / Flickr

State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is proposing new income tax brackets on New York’s wealthiest, with a top tax rate of over 10% on those making more than $100 million a year.

The new tax brackets proposed by Assembly Democrats would raise rates on those making more than a million dollars a year, as Gov. Cuomo has outlined in his budget. But new, higher rates would apply to those who make more than $5 million, $10 million or more, with a top bracket of 10.32% for New Yorkers who earn more than $100 million a year.

President Donald Trump revived the Keystone XL pipeline and Dakota Access pipeline with a highly publicized executive order this week. In New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has quietly acted to further energy pipelines across the state.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

The leader of the Senate Republicans said he’s not happy with what he said is over $800 million in new taxes and fees tucked away in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new state budget.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said he’s upset over about new proposed fees that a preliminary analysis shows total $803 million – with $250 million in new Department of Motor Vehicles fees alone.

Flanagan said he’s also not happy with the way Cuomo presented his spending plan to lawmakers. He said Cuomo failed to mention all of the new fees in a private briefing at the executive mansion.

Onasill ~ Bill Badzo / Flickr

One of the chief arguments over the state budget will be whether to renew an income tax surcharge on New York’s wealthiest.

The state is facing a $3.5 billion deficit, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to add a billion dollars to the state’s public schools. He also wants to offer free tuition at public colleges for families making less than $125,000 a year.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr (File Photo)

One of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature economic development programs is being downsized in his new state budget. Start-Up NY is being rebranded as other economic development projects have suffered setbacks.

The Start-Up NY program — which offered 10 years of freedom from income, business and other taxes to companies that sought to begin a business on a college campus — initially was a centerpiece of Cuomo’s big plans for more jobs in upstate New York.

Melinda Shelton / Flickr

School funding advocates are concerned that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is setting up for another political battle over school aid next year in a little-noticed provision in his new state budget.

Tim Kremer is with the New York State School Boards Association, one of the groups worried about Cuomo’s proposal to end what’s known as the foundation aid formula in 2018. The formula was set up to address a decade-old court order known as the Campaign for Fiscal Equity that said the state was underfunding schools by billions of dollars.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget is not just facts and figures about what taxes to collect and how to spend them. Cuomo also has put unrelated changes into the spending plan — everything from allowing ride-hailing services to expand in the state to enacting ethics reforms.

From allowing Uber and Lyft outside of New York City to imposing term limits on lawmakers, the governor’s budget includes many items that normally would be considered policy changes and debated and approved in the regular part of the session.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Some state lawmakers are rejecting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to extend a tax on millionaires. Cuomo spent Tuesday rolling out his spending plan to individual groups of lawmakers in private briefings, then at night, released details to the public.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Some state lawmakers are rejecting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal to extend a tax on millionaires.

The spending plan was outlined to some lawmakers at a lunch at the governor’s mansion, but won’t be available to the public until later this evening.

Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan said he’s against a plan by Cuomo to once again extend the tax.

“I like cutting taxes,” Flanagan said.

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