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

One day before Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address, where he is expected to address ethics issues after the criminal convictions of the two legislative leaders, some state legislators are already demanding reforms that would break up the power of the leadership.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is scheduled to give his State of the State speech on Wednesday. The governor has already spent the past week rolling out a lengthy agenda for the New Year.

Cuomo has already announced more than a dozen separate proposals as part of a 10-day roll out of his agenda leading up to Wednesday’s formal speech. 

Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo received a bit of good news just two days before he’s to give his State of the State address. The governor and his office have been cleared of any wrongdoing in the premature closing of an ethics commission.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has some big ideas for rebuilding the state’s neglected infrastructure. But, will it come with a big price tag?

Cuomo began the week with an ambitious proposal to add a third track to the Long Island Railroad, to cost around $1 billion. The governor also wants to spend $5 million on a feasibility study for a tunnel under Long Island Sound to either Connecticut or the Bronx or Westchester in New York.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

The New York State Senate held a hearing on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. While Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Democrats support the phase in to a higher wage, many senators remain uncommitted.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The opening day of the legislative session featured talk of ethics reform, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo chose to be elsewhere, putting off his traditional State of the State message for another week, and giving speeches in Syracuse and New York City instead.

The Senate and Assembly convened  for the first time since both leaders of the legislature were convicted of multiple corruption charges in late 2015 and now face potentially decades in prison.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he’ll increase funding to environmental projects as well as state parks, in his 2016 budget. The news was applauded by environmentalists, as well as some business leaders.

Cuomo is releasing parts of his 2016 agenda in the days leading up to his speech. In a speech on Long Island, he said that he’ll increase the state’s Environmental Protection Fund, which languished during the long recession and slow economic recovery.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo won’t be giving his State of the State speech for another week, but he has already begun laying out his 2016 agenda. On Monday, he held a rally to raise the minimum wage for all New York workers to $15 an hour.

Cuomo has already begun a piecemeal attempt to increase the minimum wage through executive actions to phase in an increase for state workers and fast food workers to $15 an hour over the next several years.

wadester16 / Flickr

As of December 31,  New York state has no chief judge of the Court of Appeals. It’s the second time in recent years that either Gov. Andrew Cuomo or the state Senate have missed a deadline to fill the slot.

Current Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman is forced to retire at the end of 2015. Lippman  has reached the age of 70, and under New York state law, he must step down from the bench. In an exit interview with the statewide  public television show New York Now, Lippman criticized that age limit set in law, calling it the “constitutional age of senility.”

Karen Dewitt / WRVO News file photo

The second legislative leader to be convicted of corruption has now filed his retirement papers, and is eligible for an annual pension that could reach nearly six figures.

Former Senate Leader Dean Skelos has filed papers to receive his pension, according to the state comptroller’s office. Skelos was convicted in federal court, along with his son Adam, on multiple corruption charges earlier this month.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

2015 saw the fall of two of the three most powerful people in state government, and the rise of one U.S. Attorney. 

Less than a year ago, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Leader Dean Skelos led the legislature. They were both at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State speech on January 21, sitting on stage, where Cuomo acknowledged his partners in the government triumvirate.

“To a good year, Dean,” Cuomo said to applause from the assembled lawmakers and lobbyists in the cavernous auditorium. “It’s a pleasure to be with you, Mr. Speaker.”

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced plans for mass pardons of young people who commit non-violent crimes. It’s the latest in a string of actions Cuomo has taken in the past year in an attempt to get around opposition from some factions in the state legislature and to further some progressive issues.

New York State Senate

Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to say that he will propose major reforms in the new year in the wake of the conviction of the two top legislative leaders on multiple corruption charges. But, the governor, in a radio interview, said there’s only so far that he can go to reign in campaign donations.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Advocates for paid family leave in New York say they hope 2016 is the year that the state finally provides a program to allow workers to take time off to care for a child, or a sick elderly relative.

The effort includes nurses, advocates for the mentally ill, the League of Women Voters and the New York Civil Liberties Union, who say everyone has an interest in seeing paid family leave become law.  The AARP’s Derrick Holmes says it’s a multi-generational issue encompassing the elderly,  baby boomers and Generation X-ers.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

An upstate business group is seeking tax cuts for small businesses in the new year, and are opposing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to phase in a minimum wage hike to $15 an hour.

Unshackle Upstate’s Greg Biryla says while portions of  the economy have improved somewhat, including the Albany and Buffalo regions, wide swaths of the Southern Tier, North Country, and Mohawk Valley continue to stagnate, and have lost jobs.

sebastien.barre / Flickr

A study by a reform group finds that if New York were to ban outside income for lawmakers, it would actually effect only a small number of legislators.

Office of Governor Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo made anti-sexual assault legislation on college campuses a key part of his agenda in 2015. Six months after signing what’s called the “Enough is Enough” legislation, college officials say it’s helped accelerated a trend toward better awareness and reporting of incidents.

The governor, in his efforts to pass the anti-sexual assault measure, enlisted the aid of prominent women in the political and entertainment world including House Leader Nancy Pelosi and actress and comedian Whoopie Goldberg, who made a video.

Eileen Buckley / WBFO News

New York's education commissioner said no new laws are needed to reverse a proposal in this year’s state budget tying teacher performance reviews more closely to standardized tests. At the December Board of Regents meeting, members voted to postpone the effects of the tests on teacher evaluations for at least four more years.

The latest Siena College poll finds that most people agree with the corruption conviction of the state’s former longtime Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was found guilty on seven counts two weeks ago.

The poll finds that 80 percent think Silver is guilty and the jury got it right, and 89 percent think corruption is a big problem in Albany. But, says Siena poll spokesman Steve Greenberg, many are cynical about hopes for reform.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

The second of the state legislature’s two former leaders has now been convicted on multiple corruption charges after a jury lost no time in finding former Senate Leader Dean Skelos and son Adam guilty on all eight counts.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News File Photo

A task force by Gov. Andrew Cuomo is reversing a number of policies in the Common Core standards, including parts of a measure on teacher evaluations pushed by Cuomo less than a year ago.

The governor’s task force report, released with little fanfare late on Thursday, also calls for scrapping the Common Core standards, which the governor initially fast tracked, in favor a of a new state generated standard.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Three of seven regions in upstate New York were awarded $500 million dollars each in economic development money, in a contest by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that critics have called the “hunger games.”

The annual awards ceremony took on a game show atmosphere, with lots of slick videos, and an enthusiastic announcer.

The three winning regions Rochester-Finger Lakes, central New York, and the Southern Tier, each received $500 million each in economic development money, phased in over a five-year period.

Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to try to revise his role in creating the Moreland Commission. He now says the defunct commission was never intended to investigate or prosecute anyone.   

Early in December, Cuomo was asked about the Moreland Commission on government corruption that he created, and then ended. He said it was never supposed to actually probe suspected law breaking or accuse any state politicians of illegal acts.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The last time the state held a constitutional convention, Bobby Kennedy was senator. That was in 1967.  The last time a constitutional convention met and voters actually ratified it’s result, was 75 years ago. It was in 1938, at the height of the Great Depression.

Now voters will have another chance, in November 2017, to decide whether they want to hold another one.

Constitutional convention expert and SUNY New Paltz Dean Gerald Benjamin says if the “stars align” for approval, it will be largely up to one factor.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

 

Later this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is scheduled to hand out more than $2 billion in economic development funds to regional groups. But a budget watchdog group says there needs to be better measurements to show how many jobs have actually been created and retained.

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The conviction of Sheldon Silver on corruption charges is not the end of legal proceedings for the former assembly speaker. He and his lawyers are expected to provide details of their appeal of the case as well as ask the trial judge to override the jury’s conclusions and retroactively acquit Silver.  

azipaybarah / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the current legislative leaders have downplayed efforts for new reforms in Albany following the conviction of the former Assembly Speaker on seven counts of corruption. 

Former Speaker Assembly Silver is now facing up to 20 years in prison for illegally gaining millions of dollars through his outside employment. Former Senate Leader Dean Skelos is in the midst of another federal corruption trial, accused of misusing his influence to gain jobs and money for his son.

drummajorInstitute / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has chosen Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore as his choice as the next person to lead the state’s highest court.

Cuomo chose DiFiore, an ally who ran his ethics commission for a time, who would be only the second woman chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals.

“I think she’s going to do an extraordinary job,” Cuomo predicted.

New York State Senate

 


Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke publicly for the first time since the former leader of the Assembly was convicted on seven counts of corruption for abusing his powers to earn outside income. But, Cuomo said he does not think it’s the right time now for a special session on ethics reform.

wadester16 / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is due to announce his choice for the state’s next chief judge on December 1.

The list of nominees that Cuomo will choose from to lead the state’s highest court includes potentially the first African American chief judge of the Court of Appeals, as well as a former U.S. Attorney who could be the state’s first Hispanic chief judge.

But, the favorite is the Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, who would be only the second  woman to lead the court.

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