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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The state legislature left Albany last week with some unfinished business. They did not agree on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act, and Cuomo says at least one house should return to pass some of the bill’s provisions.

In the final days of the session, the numbers nine and 10 became key points of discussion for Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act. That referred to the debate over whether to pass all 10 or just nine provisions in Cuomo’s proposed legislation.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday he will be announcing his Moreland Act commission to investigate the campaign donation filings of the legislature in the “immediate future.”

Cuomo failed to get lawmakers to agree on a package of campaign finance reforms in the just-completed legislative session, and says he will now appoint a commission under the powers of the state’s Moreland Act, to investigate campaign filings at the State Board of Elections. The governor says in the end, it might even work out better.

When state lawmakers approved a bill to permit new gambling casinos in the final hours of the legislative session, they left something out: a provision to ban campaign contributions to legislators from gambling corporations.

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his plan to create new gambling centers in New York, he said he also wanted to ban campaign contributions from gambling entities to state lawmakers.

Wallyg / via Flickr

State lawmakers were finishing up their session for the year, working to approve a measure to build four gambling casinos upstate and create tax free zones at college campuses.

But the final hours of the session were overshadowed by back and forth skirmishing over a Women’s Equality Act, which ultimately failed.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, frustrated by what he says is the failure of the legislature to agree to a reform package, says he’ll follow through with a threat to investigate the legislature, using special powers given to him under the state’s Moreland Act. But there are potential limitations built into the act.

Cuomo says he did not want to compromise on a reform package that includes public campaign financing, and new prosecutorial powers for the state’s district attorneys to root out public corruption.

Women’s groups rallied outside the New York state Senate chamber, demanding a vote on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 10-point women’s equality act -- that includes an abortion rights provision.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Deals have been reached between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders on siting new casinos and creating tax free zones at college campuses. But a bill on abortion rights was struggling, and reform measures appear dead for the session.

The agreement on casinos would allow four resort-style gambling centers; one in the Capital Region, one in the Southern Tier, and possibly two in the Catskills, if voters approve the change to the state’s constitution in the fall.

Nassau and Suffolk counties would be allowed to open more slot machines, under the terms of the bill.

Women’s groups say they have not given up on an abortion rights bill passing in the final days of the legislative session, now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has introduced the Women’s Equality Act as 10 separate bills.

Tracey Brooks, president of Family Planning Advocates of New York State, says women’s groups are asking Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos to bring the abortion rights measure to the floor as a stand alone bill. Brooks says Skelos pledged two years ago to allow what's known as a vote of conscience on social issues where senators are divided.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO

There were several arrests at the state Capitol Tuesday. Advocates took out their anger and frustration on the Cuomo administration and leaders of the state Senate, after it became clear that a progressive agenda that includes abortion rights and public campaign financing is likely dead for the legislative session.

Government reform groups are angry at Gov. Andrew Cuomo, saying he is giving up too soon on an anti-corruption agenda that includes public financing of campaigns and greater prosecution powers for the state’s district attorneys.   
     

There’s three days left in the legislative session, and chances are dimming for a settlement on an abortion rights provision in a women’s equality act, and for reform of campaign financing and other anti-corruption measures. Meanwhile, a new poll finds the public increasingly dissatisfied with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

As the session winds down, it seems that two of the governor’s top agenda items are doomed in the state Senate.

Ryan Delaney / WRVO

There are only four days left in the legislative session, and so far no agreements have been reached between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature on major issues like campaign finance reform or a women’s equality act.

Members of the legislature’s Black and Hispanic Caucus and their allies made a last minute push for a bill to decriminalize the public possession of small amounts of marijuana, saying current laws unfairly target young black and Latino men.

Assemblyman Karim Camara, who chairs the caucus, says the bill to decriminalize public possession of small amounts of marijuana is needed partly to fix an ongoing problem with the New York City Police Department’s Stop and Frisk policy. He and other supporters gathered outside the Senate chamber to call for a vote.  

Women’s groups have agreed to amend abortion rights language in a women’s equality bill to clarify that the late-term abortion procedure known as partial birth abortion will continue to be illegal in New York.

Several Republican senators said they couldn’t support a proposal to codify into New York state law the abortion rights afforded to women in the federal Roe v. Wade decision. They said they feared it would promote late term abortions, including partial birth abortion, which are currently illegal in the U.S.

It’s getting down to the wire for major pieces of legislation as the end of session approaches in Albany, including women’s rights and campaign finance reform. There are no agreements yet, but that’s not unusual in a government that operates on last-minute deals.

With just over a week left in the legislative session, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his bill to extend public financing of political campaigns to statewide races. But he still faces resistance from some factions in the legislature.

Cuomo’s talked of his support for a public campaign finance system for statewide races based on the New York City model, but this is the first time that he’s revealed the details of the actual legislation.

Durrie Lawrence / WRVO

A top Senate Republican says Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s abortion rights provision in a women’s equality bill stands little chance of passage in the chamber.

Senate Finance Committee Chair John DeFrancisco, from Syracuse, is one of the leading members of the Senate GOP conference. He says it’s unlikely that his house will pass Governor Cuomo’s proposal to codify into New York law the abortion rights in the federal Roe v. Wade decision.

Women’s groups are putting pressure on the state Senate’s ruling coalition to take up Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act, which includes  an abortion rights provision.

Zack Seward / WXXI

Gov. Andrew Cuomo faces perhaps his biggest challenge yet as the end of his third legislative session rapidly approaches. His poll numbers are falling, and his agenda is in danger.

When Cuomo began the session, back in early January, his poll numbers were soaring. His approval rating, following a fall that was spent cleaning up the damage from Hurricane Sandy, was at an almost unheard of 74 percent. A confident Cuomo embarked on an ambitious progressive leaning agenda.

A new poll finds a slim majority of voters think Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver should step down from his leadership post, following two reports that were critical of his handling of a sexual harassment case.

Assemblyman Vito Lopez has already resigned and is facing record fines for allegedly sexually harassing four women on his staff. Speaker Silver was criticized in an ethics report and a report by the Staten Island District Attorney for initially mishandling the accusations. Silver has apologized.

ChrisYunker / via Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a bill to authorize three new gambling casinos in upstate New York, if the legislature agrees to his plan and voters approve it in the fall.

Cuomo, a Democrat, has been pushing the plan for upstate casinos as an economic development tool for several months now. The constitutional amendment needed, which has already received partial passage, calls for seven casinos. Cuomo wants just three destination gambling centers for now.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is finally releasing legislation for his 10-point women’s agenda. It includes a provision to codify the abortion rights in the federal Roe v. Wade decision into New York state law. The governor says he’s been offered no assurances that it will pass the legislature.

Hundreds of women from a long list of women’s groups came to the Capitol for rally featuring actor Cynthia Nixon, among others. The governor’s plan includes a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment, equal pay provisions, and greater protections for victims of domestic violence and women forced into sex trafficking.

Audio Pending...

There’s three weeks to go in the legislative session, and advocates are pushing hard for two of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s agenda items -- translating the federal abortion rights in the Roe v. Wade decision into New York state law, and enacting public financing of statewide political campaigns.

The governor, meanwhile, is focusing on his proposal to bring tax free zones to upstate public college campuses.

Advocates for public financing of campaigns and advocates of abortion rights are entering the final push for passage of the measures, and are using a variety of tactics to spur action in the state Senate.

Audio Pending...

Anti-cancer groups are seeking to ban the sale of fruit and chocolate flavored cigars in New York state that they say are target to children.

The products include chocolate, strawberry and grape flavored cigars, which sell for under a dollar at common convenience stores. Also available on line are gummy bear and cookie dough flavored chewing tobacco and other related products.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been traveling the state, promoting his plan to create tax free business zones at college campuses. He’s also running ads, paid for by the New York State Democratic Party. Now, one of the state’s largest unions is countering that effort with its own message.

Cuomo has gathered local government leaders and business groups to the Capitol to demonstrate support for his idea to create the tax free zones at public colleges, some private universities and some state-owned properties.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says many of his key agenda items are still in play in the legislature, even though he’s been spending most of his time lately promoting tax free business zones at some state college campuses.

Cuomo held his sixth event in a week to highlight a plan to create tax free business zones at public and private colleges, as well as on some state owned properties. But he insists he’s still actively pursuing his other end of session priorities -- including public financing of political campaigns, a women’s equality act, the siting of three upstate casinos, and a board to help distressed upstate cities.

Karen DeWitt/WRVO

Hundreds gathered at the state Capitol to rally for public financing of political campaigns. The measure remains in limbo in the state Senate and Gov. Andrew Cuomo faces questions on whether he’s working hard enough for the proposal to pass.

They came in buses from all over New York to give state lawmakers their message -- big money is corrupting politics. They say the state should adopt New York City’s public campaign finance system, which allows candidates to match every dollar they collect in small donations with seven dollars of government funds.

The steady drumbeat of scandal after scandal in the New York State Legislature has led many to wonder whether lawmakers can focus on passing any major bills by the end of the session, which is fast approaching.

The legislature returns Wednesday and has just four work weeks to act on items ranging from campaign finance reform to abortion rights, to economic development plans.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, before the legislature even returned from its Memorial Day break, gathered local government leaders from across the state to ask for help in passing a plan to create tax free zones for new businesses at college campuses.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked local government leaders from around upstate New York help him convince the legislature to approve his tax free zone plan.
 
Cuomo wants to create tax free zones for new businesses who locate at state-run and some private college campuses around the state. All taxes, even for employees, would be waved for a decade. The governor says he may even increase the plan to 20 other state-run sites.

A key member of the New York State Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference says the group does not foresee joining with the rest of the Democrats to overcome Republican resistance to a number of end-of-session issues, including public financing of campaigns.
 

Ryan Delaney / WRVO

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been traveling the state promoting a plan to allow new businesses to go tax-free for up to a decade if they locate near a State University of New York campus.  The plan, which is yet to be drafted into bill form, has raised some questions.

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