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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Another sitting state legislator, Sen. Rob Ortt, has been indicted on corruption charges, along with George Maziarz, who held the western New York Senate seat before him. The indictments come as ethics reform proposals in the state budget are faltering.

Ortt is accused of creating a no-show job for his wife to pad his own salary while he was mayor of North Tonawanda in Niagara County.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Proponents of raising taxes on New York’s wealthiest say they have a new impetus to increase the state’s revenue — the continued bad news from Washington about deep federal cuts to health care and other areas.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has called an amendment to the federal repeal of the Affordable Care Act that would force the state to pick up county Medicaid costs “unconscionable.”

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

A provision to shift Medicaid health care costs in New York from counties to the state as part of the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act by Congress is meeting with a cool reception from state leaders.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The next two weeks at the New York State Capitol are going to be very busy as lawmakers face the deadline for a new budget. Several issues remain unresolved.

Marco Varisco / Flickr

Now that Preet Bharara is no longer the U.S. Attorney for the southern district of New York, some in Albany wonder who will investigate potential corruption now.

Jim Bowen / Flickr

Tensions between opposing groups of Democrats in the New York State Senate reached a flash point this week -- over whose faction would be allowed to present their budget priorities for a floor debate. The dispute resulted in an exchange that included some racially charged name calling.

A growing group of eight breakaway Democrats, who rule the Senate in an informal coalition with 31 Republicans, have left regular Democrats smarting for some time now.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The smallest faction in the divided state Senate, the Independent Democratic Conference, has been permitted by the ruling party Republicans to issue its own alternate spending plan. That has angered the rest of the Democrats.

Currently, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have the same amount of members – 31 each – but the Democrats are divided, with eight members in a breakaway group that forms an informal ruling coalition with the GOP.

Matt Ryan / New York Now

The state legislature’s one-house budgets make some changes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $163 million proposal to offer free tuition at public colleges in New York to some middle-class students.

Cuomo’s plan would have the state pay the tuition at public colleges and universities for students who have a combined family income of up to $125,000 a year when the plan is fully phased in in two years.

National Weather Service - Buffalo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has declared a statewide state of emergency for the duration of the major nor’easter coming through New York.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The New York State Senate and Assembly will release their one-house budgets this week, as the March 31 deadline for a new spending plan draws near. They’ve already given some hints as to what the plans will include.

Senate Republicans are rejecting, for now, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s extension of a tax on millionaires. They say they also are against pretty much all of the other taxes and fees in the governor’s budget, including a proposed new tax on internet purchases, a surcharge on prepaid cellphones and higher fees at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Members of a leading senior citizens lobbying group are advocating for a retirement plan in New York that could benefit their children and grandchildren.

The proposal by AARP could help address a big change in employer practices that’s occurred since the group’s members – who are 50 and older – began their working lives. That is the sharp decline in companies that offer pensions, or even 401(k) retirement accounts, leaving younger workers with no opportunities at work to save for their retirement.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s health department is analyzing the plan in the Republican Congress to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, and finds it carries a heavy price tag for New York. 

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

A provision in the Affordable Care Act replacement plan by Republicans in Congress sets up a potential clash with New York state over abortion coverage. 

The plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act by the GOP-led Congress includes tax credits for people to buy insurance policies. The Republican House plan forbids anyone from using the tax credits to buy an insurance plan that covers abortions.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The state budget is due in 3 1/2 weeks, but the biggest push at the Capitol is for a change that is not a spending item. It’s a measure to treat 16- and 17-year-olds as children, not adults, when they are charged with serious crimes.

Many leading legislators say, for them, the issue is personal.

Those who support raising the age when New Yorkers are treated as adults in the criminal justice system from 16 to 18 held a rally Tuesday at the Capitol. Many of the leading Democrats in the Legislature spoke, including Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

David Sommerstein / NCPR file photo

The New York State Assembly held a hearing Monday on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to spend $8 billion in subsidies to keep three upstate nuclear power plants operating for the next 12 years. But no one from the Cuomo administration showed up.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

New York’s health care system is bracing for big changes to the Affordable Care Act. No one knows for certain how it will be altered, but it will almost certainly cost the state a significant amount of money.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Reform advocates are taking exception to remarks made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said there is already enough oversight of potentially corrupt activities in Albany.

Just one month before the state budget is due, numerous interest groups are converging on the state Capitol, asking that they be included in the budget.

Among the more impassioned efforts is one from developmentally disabled people and their caregivers. They are seeking $45 million in state subsidies to pay workers more money to comply with the rising minimum wage in New York.

Governor Andrew Cuomo / Flickr

A new poll finds that in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s numbers are rising while President Donald Trump’s are sinking.

For the first time in two-and-a-half years, Cuomo’s job approval rating is at 50 percent, after stagnating in the mid-40s since summer 2014. Steve Greenberg, spokesman for Siena College polling, said 60 percent of New Yorkers now say they have a favorable view of Cuomo, the largest number in two years.

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.

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