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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Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The final week of New York’s legislative session begins Monday, and so far, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers have still not come to agreement on a number of major laws that expire.  

New York City’s rent laws, which impact over one million apartments, sunset at midnight. They are tied, through legislation, to a property tax cap important to suburbanites and upstaters. Also set to expire -- a tax break for large real estate developers who agree to set aside some of their projects for affordable housing, and mayoral control of the New York City schools.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is promising police and firefighters in New York City a better deal on their disability benefits, as a budget watch dog group warns against the proliferation of end of session bills that give union workers more benefits.

Cuomo made a rare appearance at a rally, held by firefighters and police union members from New York City, to support their push for better disability benefits.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo acknowledges that the cloud of corruption over the Capitol is making it harder to achieve end of session deals. Cuomo says currently, there are no deals on any end of session issues, including renewal of New York City rent laws and a related property tax cap, or an education tax credit the governor is pushing.

The governor says the renewal of a tax break for real estate developers, known as 421a, has become problematic, because any changes to the law benefits “some political interest.”

-JvL- / Flickr

One of the ethics reforms agreed to in the state budget has still not been passed by state Assembly Democrats, and minority party Republicans say they are worried that the bill will be delayed, or watered down.

When the state budget was approved in late March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders announced some reform measures, including changing the state’s constitution to deny government pensions to lawmakers convicted of felonies.

stgermh / Flickr

The chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee says an education tax credit bill pressed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo is not appropriate for the state at this time.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Lawmakers are struggling to reach end of session deals, as the corruption scandals and on going federal investigations seem to be hampering their progress.  

With just over one week left until the session is scheduled to end, lawmakers seem far apart on many key issues. New York City’s rent regulations expire next week, along with a property tax break for real estate developers who agree to set aside some of their project for affordable housing, known as 421a.  

stgermh / Flickr

It’s the second to the last week of the legislative session, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers still have a long way to go before they can agree on key issues.

Rent regulations and the mayor’s control of public schools in New York City expire in June 15, as well as a tax break for real estate developers who set aside a portion of their project for affordable housing. The rent laws are tied, through legislation, to an issue important to suburban and upstate residents, the continuation of a property tax cap.

Ellory Smith / WHMT

The state legislative session is scheduled to end June 17 and a ranking Senate Democrat says there's a lot to be done. But Sen. Mike Gianaris of New York City says he thinks it's a mistake to end the session without acting on ethics reform -- in a year where both leaders of the legislature have resigned over corruption charges. Capitol Correspondent Karen DeWitt interviewed Gianaris about the state of ethics in Albany.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

 

A reform group is taking a new approach to trying to close a loophole in the state’s campaign finance laws, as years long attempts to crack down on what’s known as “dark money” donations have failed.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

A third poll in as many weeks shows Gov. Andrew Cuomo losing popularity with voters. This time it’s by Quinnipiac University, which puts the governor’s rating at it’s lowest ever.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

About two dozen tenants rights activists, as well as several Democratic state lawmakers were arrested at a protest on the lack of action so far on reforming New York City’s rent laws. The law is scheduled to expire June 15, and protestors want it to not only be renewed, but include more protections for tenants.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO News

One day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo arranged a meeting  with some state lawmakers and Catholic Church leaders to promote the education tax credit, the measure seems to be losing support among Assembly Democrats, with some Democrats saying they are angered by tactics used by backers, which has included picketing their offices.

Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston / Flickr

Catholic bishops met at the governor’s mansion with some state lawmakers Monday for a meeting arranged by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the earned income tax credit.

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, speaking after the lunch with assemblymembers and senators, says it was a positive discussion, and there may be hopes of compromise. The bill includes tax credits for donors who give money for scholarships for children at private and parochial schools.

“There seemed to be a conciliatory atmosphere,” Dolan said. “I just found it very helpful.”

Matt Ryan / New York Now

Despite the arrest of the leaders of both houses of the legislature on corruption charges, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers say they have no plans to pass any additional ethics reforms this session.
 
It appears likely that a legislative session in which the speaker of the Assembly and president of the Senate have both been indicted will  not end with any significant new reforms.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited a state prison Thursday to announce he’s hiring  more  guards, and to push for a change in how 16- and 17-year-olds are treated in the state prison system.

Cuomo has been pressing the issue known as Raise the Age since his State of the State message in January. It would no longer treat 16- and 17-year-olds accused of violent crimes as adults, and instead house them in special detention centers separate from the adult state prison system. 

Karen Dewitt / WRVO News file photo

The former leader of the state Senate was formally indicted on federal corruption charges Thursday. Sen. Dean Skelos resigned as leader earlier in May after the accusations against him were announced by the U.S. attorney.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

In the final weeks of the legislative session, groups are lobbying for some of the major remaining issues still on the table, including the mayor of New York City, and groups who want a property tax break for homeowners struggling to hold on to their houses. And both accuse Gov. Andrew Cuomo of not taking an active enough role.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

New York state has a new education commissioner. The New York State board of Regents, after a lengthy closed door session, chose MaryEllen Elia, a former western New York school teacher who was most recently the superintendent of a large school district in Florida.

Elia, a Lewiston, NY native who taught in public schools in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst early in her career, says she is glad to be “coming home” after many years away.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

A new poll finds Gov. Andrew Cuomo with the lowest approval ratings since he took office, in a year where corruption scandals have dominated news at the Capitol.  

The Siena College survey is the second in a month that shows the governor’s support eroding.  Only 41 percent think Cuomo is doing a good job in office, though he’s still viewed favorably overall by 53 percent of voters.  The Democrat governor fared the worst with New York City and Republican voters.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

There’s a push by business groups and Republicans in the New York State Senate, as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, to make the state’s 2 percent per year property tax cap permanent. Backers have issued a report to bolster their views, and say public opinion is on their side.    

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been steering clear of public events at the state Capitol recently, after a second major party legislative leader, the head of the Senate was forced to resign over corruption charges.  But the governor is still finding ways to press for his legislative agenda in the last weeks of the session.

Columbia City Blog / Flickr

A near record number of school budgets were approved around the state in Tuesday’s vote. Many are attributing the relative lack of controversy to the three year old property tax cap that limits tax levy increases, as well as an increase in state aid.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Assembly Democrats are approving a one-house bill to strengthen New York City’s rent regulations in favor of tenants. The rent law renewal and many other issues, including an education tax credit and the Dream Act, are in flux as the final weeks of deal making approaches.  

stgermh / Flickr

The legislature will be finishing up its work in the next couple of weeks with two new legislative leaders; one in his third month, the other in just his second week on the job.

Now that the state Senate has stabilized, after weeks of turmoil over corruption charges, legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are looking at what they can reasonably finish with just five weeks left in the session.

Wallyg / via Flickr

With just a few weeks left in the legislative session, education issues continue to dominate. Some lawmakers want to fix a recently passed law that requires a fast turn around for new teacher evaluations, while others would like a tax break for donors that would help private schools.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has seen much of his ambitious legislative agenda for 2015 stall, as first the Assembly Speaker, and then the Senate Leader, were charged with corruption and had to resign their leadership posts.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO News

The new leader of the New York State Senate, John Flanagan, replaced Dean Skelos, who is facing corruption charges. On day two in office, Flanagan says he does not expect any major new reform legislation to happen before the end of the session.

Flanagan says he does not think that further ethics reform will be enacted in the remaining weeks of the legislative session, despite an ongoing corruption scandal that cost his predecessor his job.

David Shankbone / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is coping with the breast cancer diagnosis and impending double mastectomy surgery of his long time partner, and cooking show celebrity Sandra Lee. In a statement, Cuomo said he expects to take some personal time off to support her through her treatment.

nysenate.gov

Senate Leader Dean Skelos has resigned his post, over a corruption scandal, and Republicans have elected Sen. John Flanagan, currently chairman of the Education Committee to be his successor.

Flanagan, a Republican from Long Island, a GOP stronghold in the Senate, became the new leader of the Senate with a unanimous floor vote from his Republican conference.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News File Photo

State Senate Republicans have been huddling behind closed doors, trying to resolve a leadership crisis now that Majority Leader Dean Skelos has lost the support of his GOP members, after being charged with six federal counts of corruption.

Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse-area Republican who’s been running to replace Skelos, says first, the leader would have to resign, and that is not yet guaranteed.  

“I have not talked to Dean; not anybody that I’ve talked to has a clear answer on that,” DeFrancisco said.

Kramchang / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, at a large union rally in New York City’s Union Square to raise the minimum wage, called out fast food chains McDonalds and Burger King by name and accused them of corporate greed for under-paying workers.

Cuomo, in an animated speech, says fast food chains make huge profits while relying on taxpayers subsidies, like food stamps, to make up for the low pay they give their workers.

The governor says he’ll bypass the legislature and create a state board to examine increasing the state's minimum wage for fast food workers.

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