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

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The New York State Legislature took final action on measures that could be used against President Donald Trump and his associates, including a backdoor way for Congress to view the president’s tax returns.

The first bill would authorize the state tax department to release the tax returns of Trump and other elected officials and high-ranking political appointees who live in New York to some congressional committees conducting inquiries.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

There’s going to be a change at the top in the state’s Republican Party.

Erie County GOP Chair Nick Langworthy has gathered the support of the majority of county chairs and will be replacing Ed Cox in July. The two met with the media Tuesday to talk about the transition.

On the surface, it is an amicable change of leadership.

Cox, who oversaw the party for the past 10 years and is the son-in-law of former President Richard Nixon, said he’s pleased with his new position as part of a team to help finance President Donald Trump’s re-election effort.

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Advocates for a bill that would allow terminally ill New Yorkers to end their own lives say the legislation has its best chance yet for passage in the Democratic-controlled state Legislature. 

The bill would permit physicians to prescribe a lethal dose of pills to patients who are diagnosed with a terminal illness and who ask for the drugs. 

New York State Senate

The New York State Senate Wednesday passed measures that they say will improve safety on the state’s roads, including adding cameras to the stop arms of school buses.

Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Buffalo Democrat who is chair of the Transportation Committee, said an estimated 50,000 drivers per day in New York pass a stopped school bus. He said that happens despite the buses’ red flashing lights and a stop sign arm.

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Two bills that challenge President Donald Trump and his policies are advancing in the New York State Assembly.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Democrats in his house are ready to act on a measure to amend New York’s double jeopardy laws. It would give state prosecutors the right to pursue cases against potential crimes committed in New York, even if the person is pardoned by the president.  

“There’s enough support to pass double jeopardy,” Heastie told reporters Tuesday. “It will be on the agenda next week.”

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After the failure to include legalized recreational marijuana in the New York state budget earlier this year, sponsors of the legislation say they are introducing a new bill that they hope stands a better chance at becoming law.

Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who is a longtime supporter of legalizing the drug, said the new bill incorporates some of the ideas the governor and Legislature came up with when they talked about the issue during budget talks.

NYCLU / Twitter

Progressive groups, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, say they’re frustrated that action on left-leaning issues has stalled in New York in the final weeks of the legislative session.

They held a rally Monday to get Democrats who lead the state Senate and Assembly to move faster on items like granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and workers’ rights for farm laborers, and they are hopeful those measures will pass before the session ends on June 19.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Opponents of bills to decriminalize prostitution in New York say it will only strengthen the worldwide sex trafficking industry and increase incidents of abuse in New York. Anti-sex trafficking groups and their allies spoke out at the state Capitol. 

Attorney Dorchen Leidholdt has represented hundreds of women who were abused by domestic violence and sex trafficking. She is co-chair of the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition.

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New York City’s rent laws expire June 15, and tenant advocates and some state lawmakers think a renewal of the laws should include cities outside of New York, including upstate.

A hearing held by the state Assembly sought input on that proposal and eight other rent reform bills introduced in both houses of the Democratic-controlled legislature.

New York State Senate / youtube

Two bills approved Wednesday in the state Senate could affect President Donald Trump and his associates.

One would permit the state tax department to give the president’s New York tax returns to congressional committees. The other would ensure that anyone the president pardons for federal crimes could still be prosecuted for crimes committed in New York state. 

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins predicted the measures will have a "major impact both nationally and in New York state."

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

More than 100 sex workers came to the Capitol on Tuesday to lobby for two bills that they say would help keep them safe and end some of the stigma associated with their jobs. 

The workers, joined by lawmakers who back the bills, told stories of what led them to the work.

Jessica Raven, a mother and community organizer with the group DecrimNY, is a former sex worker. She said she needed to earn money to survive when she became homeless at age 15 after being sexually assaulted in the foster care system.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Supporters hope that their efforts to change an 80-year-old law that excludes farmworkers from many of the protections afforded to other workers in New York, may finally meet with success in the all Democratic-led State Legislature.

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The cap on charter schools in New York is unlikely to be raised this year because of changing political dynamics in the Democrat-led New York State Legislature and opposition from the teachers union.

A 2015 law restricts how many new charter schools could open in New York City to 50, and the city reached that cap earlier this year. The limit under that law for the entire state is 460 schools. Proponents of charter schools would like to see the cap lifted, saying there are already long waiting lists of lower-income children who want to attend the schools. 

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A bill that would create a backdoor method to release President Donald Trump’s taxes is moving through the state Senate and could be voted on as early as next week.

Several congressional committees have been seeking Trump’s tax returns in connection with a number of investigations. The committees say they have the legal right to see the documents.

But Trump has refused to release them, saying he is in the process of being audited. And his Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, has declined to hand over the papers to the committees, setting up a potential court fight.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Democrats in the State Assembly say they plan to move ahead with a bill to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants in New York. But the Assembly speaker said he wants to educate people about the benefits of the measure first.

Speaker Carl Heastie said Democrats, who are in the majority in his house, have the votes to pass what’s known as the Green Light Bill to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a standard driver’s license.

“We are supportive of moving the driver’s licenses for all (legislation),” Heastie said.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO Public Media

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the number of measles cases has grown to over 700 and is the worst outbreak in decades.

New York’s Rockland County has more than 200 of those cases, and state legislators are calling for the immediate passage of a bill to mandate vaccinations unless a person has a medical exemption.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

A bill to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses in New York is gaining support in the state Legislature. But there’s also a growing backlash, and several upstate county sheriffs, county clerks and state lawmakers are explaining why they oppose the measure.

Sen. Daphne Jordan, a Republican from Saratoga, led a news conference attended by officials from three upstate counties who say there would be unintended consequences if undocumented immigrants were to get the licenses.

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Public campaign financing could be coming to New York by the end of this year, now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature have created a commission to come up with a plan.

Supporters say the current system favors a small group of big-money donors at the expense of the average citizen and needs to be changed. But not everyone agrees that is a good idea.

The recently created commission has until Dec. 1 to design a public financing system for all statewide offices. It can spend up to $100 million to set up the program.

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As Earth Day was celebrated Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that bans single-use plastic bags in grocery stores and other retail shops in New York state.

Cuomo, crumpling a plastic bag in his hand for effect, said the bags "look harmless enough" but are actually dangerous to the environment -- and New Yorkers use 23 billion of them a year. They end up in landfills and on the street. Cuomo, an avid deep-sea fisherman, said they also clog up the waterways.

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When state lawmakers return later this month for a post-budget session, they hope to tackle several issues, including trying to curb the number of robocalls that New Yorkers receive.              

The call are annoying and becoming more frequent. According to the company You Mail, which makes call-blocking software, New York reported the third-highest volume of robocalls in the nation for the month of March.

Colleen / via Flickr

State education officials canceled computerized testing for New York’s third- through eighth-grade students on Wednesday after a software glitch prevented some students from being able to complete -- and in some cases, even begin -- the tests.

But they said they’ll be able to restart the tests on Thursday.

The English and math exams are required under federal law. The state education department has contracted with the testing company Questar to administer the exams, and about 25% of students take the tests online.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News (file photo)

A commission to examine a public campaign finance system for statewide elections in New York may also look at whether to continue the state’s practice of what’s known as fusion voting.

The practice allows more than one political party to support the same candidate on the ballot, a practice that resulted in the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor appearing on six different ballot lines in 2018.

But the proposed change has members on the left and the right of the mainstream political parties concerned. 

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News (file photo)

The New York State legislature completed work on the state budget at around 7:30 a.m. Monday, after pulling an all night session to complete  the  budget relatively on time. The spending plan represents a compromise where not everyone is completely happy.

governorandrewcuomo / flickr

Two days before the due date, the New York state budget is starting to take shape, as lawmakers planned to return to the Capitol for a rare Sunday session to begin voting to meet the April 1 deadline.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued to defend his choice to hold a $25,000-a-plate fundraiser attended by key lobbyists two weeks before the budget is due, saying he supports public campaign financing.

In a radio interview with WCNY’s “The Capitol Pressroom,” Cuomo said he was not influenced by the money he received from donors.

“If anyone suggests that any position I take is linked to a contributor,” they would be wrong, Cuomo said.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The push for a public campaign finance system for New York’s politicians heated up as a feud erupted between three young female lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aides.

They were arguing over a private, $25,000-a-plate fundraiser held by the governor just two weeks before the state budget is due.

A plan to create a matching small-donor public campaign finance system for statewide elections is included in Cuomo’s budget and has some support in the Democrat-led state Senate.

Keng Susumpow / Flickr

The sponsors of a bill to ban single-use plastic bags in New York are optimistic that the measures will be part of the new state budget. But there are still details to be worked out, including whether there should be a fee on paper bags.

Lawmakers and environmental groups stood outside the Assembly chambers in a Capitol filled with groups making their last-minute pitches for items in the state budget.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan of Buffalo held up a crumpled plastic bag and said the overuse of the bags is an environmental scourge.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Two freshman state senators and one recently elected Assemblywoman say they are incensed by a New York Times article documenting a recent fundraiser held by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that charged up to $25,000 per person.

Cuomo says he’s for a public campaign finance system, but Sen. Alessandra Biaggi says the governor is disingenuous to hold a major fundraiser just before the budget is due.

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Unions and many Democrats in the state Legislature are pushing for an expansion of the state’s prevailing wage law. But they are finding that the change might have some unintended consequences. 

The prevailing wage rules require that all publicly funded construction projects in a region pay at least the average wage paid on all projects completed in that area.

Brett Levin / Flickr

Supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana plan to hold rallies each day at the State Capitol this week, urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers to include the measure in the state budget.  

Kassandra Frederique with the Drug Policy Alliance said supporters worry that if the issue lingers until later in the session, its chances of passage will diminish.

“Kicking the can down the road more is not a good sign for us as community members,” Frederique said. “The urgency on what legalization can do for our communities is important.”