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.

Ways to Connect

Wallyg / Flickr

The first meeting of the commission created to devise a public campaign finance system for New York's political races is scheduled for Wednesday. Advocates hope the commission, which has been slow to start, will start taking steps toward a final report due in December.

The commission, announced in March, does not yet have a staff or a schedule of promised public hearings, but advocates for public campaign financing in New York say they hope that will be announced at the meeting. 

ny.gov

The head of the state’s Republican Party says there’s no need to require New Yorkers to buy new license plates beginning in 2020, if their current plates are still readable and in good condition. 

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

After economic development corruption scandals, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli have finalized a plan to restore the comptroller's auditing powers over economic development contracts.

In 2011, Cuomo persuaded the state Legislature to agree to limit the comptroller's oversight ability for some economic development projects. They included the $750 million subsidy for the Solar City project, as part of an initiative Cuomo called the Buffalo Billion.

At the time, Cuomo said the additional oversight slowed down the bidding and construction process.

A major figure in New York’s labor movement, Danny Donohue, is leaving his job next year, after leading the state’s largest public workers union, the Civil Service Employees Association, for a quarter-century.

WXXI's Karen DeWitt sat down with Donohue for an interview with public radio and television. Among other things, they talked about his relationship with several New York governors, including the rocky start the union had with current Gov. Andrew Cuomo.


Jason Smith / WRVO News (file photo)

The state ethics commission has settled with a former Assembly member and a former Senate staffer in two cases involving sexual harassment

The case against former Assembly member Angela Wozniak from the Buffalo area dates from 2016, when she was accused of harassing a male staffer, after Wozniak, who was married, had a brief consensual romantic relationship with her employee.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed legislation Thursday to impose a penalty of life in prison without parole for acts of domestic terrorism, including mass shootings.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

It was an emotional day Wednesday as hundreds of childhood sexual abuse survivors filed lawsuits in New York courts on the first day of a one-year window of opportunity for victims to seek civil action against their abusers. 

Susanne Robertson and her two sisters were orphans at St. Colman's Home in Watervliet, near Albany, where she said they were routinely abused by the nuns and other staff there. When one of the girls reported the sexual abuse to a nun at the home, she was transferred to an orphanage for mentally disabled children. 

Brian Turner / Flickr

Wednesday is the first day of a yearlong legal window to allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue their alleged abusers. Hundreds of cases are expected to be filed on the first day alone.

The survivors bringing suit Wednesday were previously shut out of the courts due to a strict statute of limitations. Under the Child Victims Act, approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature earlier this year, victims can bring criminal charges against an alleged abuser until they reach the age of 28, and can initiate a civil lawsuit until they are 55.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News (file photo)

New York’s senior U.S. senator said that he will push for legislation in the upcoming federal budget to provide funds for local boards of elections to harden their security against potential threats by foreign governments. 

Mike Saechang / Flickr

 

In the wake of two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, there's been renewed discussion about states and even the federal government adopting what are known as red flag laws to get guns out of the hands of potential killers.

New York's red flag law was approved last winter and takes effect later this month. 

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is continuing to offer his views in the national debate about gun control. He's asking Democratic presidential candidates to endorse four gun control measures previously adopted in New York. 

Wallyg / via Flickr

A new poll shows voters have mixed opinions about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.  

The Siena College survey finds New Yorkers think Cuomo has made the state a better place in the nine years since he was elected governor. They give him high points for accomplishments like protecting the rights of New Yorkers, ensuring accessibility to health care and a high-quality education, and effectively managing state government.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is calling on Congress to take immediate action on gun control in the wake of the El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, mass shootings over the weekend.

Cuomo appeared on several television and radio shows, including on Albany public radio station WAMC, where he said Democrats need to speak in a unified voice about the need to ban assault weapons, strengthen background checks and take other steps to keep guns out of the hands of domestic terrorists. 

New York Now

 

Beginning August 14, New Yorkers who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse will have a one year window of opportunity to file civil suits against their abusers, under the terms of the Child Victims Act passed by the legislature earlier this year. Thousands of cases are expected to be filed, with payouts potentially in the millions. 

Gordon Smith was 14 years old when he says he was first abused by two priests at a St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and school in Albany in the early 1960s.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

A handshake deal between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to reinstate the comptroller’s powers to audit contracts in the wake of corruption scandals has stalled.

Reform advocates are accusing Cuomo of reneging on the deal, something the governor’s office denies.  

In 2011, Cuomo persuaded the Legislature to limit DiNapoli's auditing powers when it came to large economic development contracts. They included ones through the State University’s Polytechnic Institute, which was heavily involved in hundreds of millions of dollars of projects.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday signed a bill into law that further decriminalizes marijuana possession in New York state. The law ends criminal prosecution for possession of up to 2 ounces of cannabis.

The action comes on a day when the governor also signed new gun control measures into law. 

Under the law, possession of up to 1 ounce of the drug would be punishable by a $50 fine. Having up to 2 ounces of cannabis would bring a $200 fine. The measure also creates a mechanism to expunge the records for some past marijuana convictions.

Jason Smith / WRVO News (file photo)

Political parties that represent the left and the right of New York’s political spectrum have joined in a common interest, and filed lawsuits against a new commission that might curtail their rights to cross endorse political candidates. And though the two parties in some cases hold diametrically opposing views on policy, they share a belief that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is trying to get rid of the practice as part of a political vendetta. 

Meesh / Flickr

Advocates of ending solitary confinement in New York's prisons ended the 2019 legislative session disappointed that changes made to the practice did not go further, and they say they'll be back to fight for more progress. 

One advocate, Victor Pate, spent 90 days in solitary confinement when he was serving a prison term for robbery. That was 23 years ago, but Pate said he still feels like a trauma survivor. 

"It doesn't take but a moment for me to be transformed back to that moment," Pate said. "Because I never, ever got treatment for the trauma that I suffered."

Jason Smith / WRVO News (file photo)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has made no secret in recent weeks of his lack of respect for the progressive wing of his party, frequently disparaging them as not being realistic or pragmatic enough. Now some New York Democrats on the left have begun to answer back.

The 2019 legislative session was dominated by a newly elected majority of progressive Democrats in the legislature. They oversaw passage of several bills, including strengthening abortion rights and transgender rights, instituting early voting, and allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers licenses.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday signed into law a bill that could greatly reduce greenhouse gases in New York. He was joined by former Vice President Al Gore, a longtime activist against climate change.

At Fordham University, Cuomo told an audience of Democratic lawmakers, union leaders and environmentalists that the law, which sets a goal of reducing all greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050, is the "most consequential" of his administration. 

"In a few minutes, I will sign the most aggressive climate law in the United States of America," Cuomo said to applause.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a farmworkers' rights bill into law Wednesday that will, for the first time, give the workers benefits that other employees get, including time off and overtime pay.

The governor said the farmworkers rights measure marks a "milestone in the crusade for social justice."

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia abruptly resigned Monday, taking members of the state Board of Regents by surprise. She said she will take a new job at the end of August at an unnamed national firm. 

Elia, who is the first female commissioner in the history of the State Education Department, said she decided now is the right time to leave the post, and has agreed to accept a job with a national firm that works to turn around struggling public schools.

governorandrewcuomo / flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo used the occasion of the ticker tape parade for the U.S. women’s soccer team in Manhattan to sign two bills Wednesday that will make it easier for women in New York to receive pay that is equal to men’s salaries.

The measure mandates equal pay for all employees In New York who do "substantially similar work"   regardless of their gender. It also extends the equal pay provision for workers who are in a protected class, including race, gender identity or disability.

NYS Department of Motor Vehicles

The first lawsuit has been filed against New York's new law to permit undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses as Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued to cast doubt on the effectiveness of the new law.

The lawsuit filed by Erie County Clerk Michael "Mickey" Kearns seeks court action to prevent the state from forcing county clerks who are against the new law to issue driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants.

Kearns, speaking a few days before the suit was filed, said he believes the New York law is unconstitutional.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News (file photo)

A bill to allow automatic voter registration in New York failed in the final days of the legislative session, after a mistake in the language would have inadvertently allowed undocumented immigrants to vote.  Sponsors say it was an honest mistake, but it caused concern among Republicans in the legislature, and earned Democrats a chiding from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

Omar Barcena / Flickr

New York's county clerks are meeting in Syracuse on Monday to discuss a new law that requires county departments of motor vehicles to issue driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. Meanwhile, some county clerks who are opposed to the law are pressing forward on a federal lawsuit.

Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola has been an outspoken opponent of granting standard driver's licenses to the immigrants. And he said he won't comply with the law, which was approved in late June by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Democratic-led state Legislature.

Matt Ryan / New York Now

New York's Republican Party met in a hotel outside Albany on Monday to choose its new chair.

Nick Langworthy replaces Ed Cox, the son-in-law of former President Richard Nixon. The 38-year-old promises to bring new energy to the fight against the state's dominant political party, the Democrats.  

The meeting, attended by Republicans from all over the state, was part nominating meeting, part pep rally.

Cox, the outgoing longtime GOP chair, acknowledged that the party needs to re-energize in New York. 

surfergirl30 / flickr

A bill currently before Gov. Andrew Cuomo would regulate the sale of CBD products in New York state and set up new rules for the state’s growing hemp industry.

Cuomo has not yet decided whether he’s going to sign it, potentially leaving what is now a legal gray area in limbo.

CBD, or cannabidiol, products seem to be for sale everywhere these days -- in health food stores, grocery stores and pet stores.

Brett Levin / Flickr

Advocates of legalizing adult recreational marijuana said they plan to spend the next six months convincing state lawmakers to allow the drug to be sold and used in New York after a measure failed in the final days of the session. 

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

The 2019 legislative session was among the most productive in several years, with the passage of bills that ranged from strengthening abortion rights to allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

If you’re a liberal Democrat, there’s a lot to like. But conservative Republicans are not as pleased.

The 2019 session ended when the Assembly gaveled out shortly after 7 a.m. Friday.

Pages