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

The state’s new early voting system doesn’t begin until Saturday, but some lawmakers and voting rights advocates already want changes to the law.

New York Attorney General Tish James led off a rally in New York City to bring attention to the new law, which permits nine additional days for voters to cast a ballot.

“Starting this Saturday, New Yorkers can now vote early for the first time,” James said to cheers.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

The governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania met Thursday in New York City to try to hash out a multi-state approach to legalizing the adult recreational use of marijuana. 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the governors are trying to adopt a unified approach to legalization to avoid their residents crossing borders and going to other states where the laws might be more expansive or the taxes might be lower.

nysgop.org

The state's Republican Party chair is angered over the news that a commission to create a public campaign finance system for New York state will issue its report on Thanksgiving Eve -- traditionally a time when politicians release items that they want to downplay. 

The commission, which held its last meeting on a state holiday, is scheduled to release its final report the day before Thanksgiving on how to structure the system for statewide elected offices, including governor and attorney general, and for state Senate and Assembly seats. 

J. Stephen Conn / Flickr

A policy seminar titled Medicaid Migraine, held Wednesday by the fiscal watchdog group the Empire Center as part of the Gov. Hugh L. Carey Policy Forum, addressed the rapidly increasing health care costs in New York that led to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget office delaying a $1.7 billion payment to providers last year.

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A poll out Tuesday finds that the majority of New Yorkers approve of the impeachment inquiry conducted by House Democrats against President Donald Trump.

That’s not unusual in a blue state like New York, but the Siena College poll finds some broader shifts in voter sentiment regarding impeachment that could be worrisome to the president.

Marco Varisco / Flickr

New York state’s public campaign finance commission met for several hours on Columbus Day to discuss the nuts-and-bolts details of how to implement a matching public donor system for statewide races.

The commission spent over four hours discussing how to implement a matching small-donor public campaign finance system for statewide races. They reached consensus on a few issues that give an indication of how the final proposal, due in December, might look. 

They discussed contributions beginning at $5 and up to $250 could be matched by the public fund at a 6-to-1 ratio.

Jason Smith / WRVO News (file photo)

A New York commission formed to come up with a plan to publicly finance state election campaigns will hold a special meeting on Columbus Day. 

Meanwhile, the State Legislature is considering whether to return to the Capitol in December for a special session to potentially reverse some of the commission's anticipated decisions.

Under the rules, the commission will issue its recommendations on how to implement a public campaign financing system by Dec. 1. If lawmakers don't act to change the recommendations, they automatically become law by the end of the year.

J. Stephen Conn / Flickr

A state commission to oversee the 2020 census count for New York state adopted its action plan Tuesday. But immigrant rights groups worry that it’s too little, too late.

The commission gave unanimous approval to a plan that includes directing resources to “hard to count” communities, estimated to contain at least 4.8 million people. Many are in the African American and Latinx communities. There’s also concern that since the census will for the first time be conducted mostly online, predominately white rural New Yorkers with poor Internet access may also be missed.

Lindsay Fox / Flickr

New York has now reported the first death related to an epidemic of vaping-related illnesses, with the state health department saying the male victim is a 17-year-old from the Bronx.  

According to state officials, the teen was previously hospitalized in early September with a vaping-associated respiratory illness. He was readmitted to the hospital in late September and died on Oct. 4.  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned young people, who under law are not allowed to buy vaping products, to stay away from vaping.  

Mark Lavonier / WRVO News (file photo)

The New York State Health Department has decided to put off a ban on menthol-flavored nicotine vaping products until a court case challenging an earlier ban on other flavored e-cigarettes is resolved.  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in late September asked his health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, to convene an emergency meeting of the state’s public health council to enact the ban.  

The request came 10 days after the council voted to ban all other flavored e-cigarettes. Cuomo has said the flavored e-cigarettes are contributing to a steep rise in teen vaping.  

WRVO News (file photo)

New York's Medicaid budget is growing at a faster rate than the state can currently afford. That comes as a published report alleges a potential pay-to-play arrangement between a large hospital association and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2018 re-election campaign.

Jason Smith / WRVO News (file photo)

As political tensions heighten over the inquiry into impeaching President Donald Trump, a new poll finds that New Yorkers believe people in the state are more partisan than ever.

BaronBrian / Flickr

Advocates for clean drinking water say proposed new limits by the state Health Department for chemicals in the water supply that are linked to cancer and other serious illnesses are too high and will lead to serious health problems.

The state Health Department is recommending that the drinking water supply of any New Yorker does not contain any more than 10 parts per trillion of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA; 10 parts per trillion of perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS; and 1 part per billion of a related substance, 1,4-dioxane.

Mark Lavonier / WRVO News (file photo)

New York’s ban on flavored electronic cigarettes could soon be extended to menthol e-cigarettes. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says his health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, is now recommending that menthol-flavored e-cigarettes be taken off the market in New York.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo traveled to Hartford, Connecticut, on Wednesday to meet with that state’s governor and to announce a joint effort to limit vaping and work toward legalizing the adult recreational use of marijuana. 

Cuomo and Gov. Ned Lamont met in the midst of a health crisis related to vaping that has sickened hundreds across the country -- nearly 100 in New York and over a dozen in Connecticut -- a phenomenon that Cuomo calls “frightening.”

governorandrewcuomo / flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $1 billion high-tech development project on the State University of New York’s Polytechnic Institute campus near Utica.

It’s the first big announcement of jobs since an economic development scandal brought a federal prison sentence for the former head of the institute, as well as a top aide to Cuomo and several of the governor’s former associates.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News File Photo

This fall, New Yorkers will have their first-ever opportunity to vote early in November's elections. Polls will be open a full 10 days before the Nov. 5 Election Day.

But the logistics will vary depending on where you live.

Laura Ladd Bierman, executive director of the League of Women Voters of New York State, said she's hopeful that voters will be eager to take part in an option already offered in 38 other states.

"It will tell people, 'Oh my gosh, I can go vote at this place, any time, for nine days before Election Day,' " Ladd Bierman said.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

 

Owners of existing clean energy power plants in New York say they’d like the same support from the state for their businesses that new ones get.  

Jim Besha’s engineering firm runs what he said is the oldest continuously operating hydroelectric plant. Built in 1897, it’s housed in a compact brick building that spans the upper Hudson River, outside Mechanicville. 

Wallyg / via Flickr

Tempers flared at a public hearing of a commission formed to enact a public campaign financing system for New York.

But the tensions centered not on that proposal, but on the commission's decision to consider whether to end fusion voting, which allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines.

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that a plan to charge up to $45 to replace license plates more than 10 years old is no longer going forward.

The news comes after a Siena College poll finds New Yorkers strongly oppose having to pay for new license plates.

Three-quarters of those asked said they think the $25 fee to replace the plates is unfair. Those who want to keep their current plate number would have to pay an additional $20.

ecig vap / Flickr

The New York state Public Health and Health Planning Council voted Tuesday to ban flavored e-cigarettes in the state, starting immediately. They did so over the protests of vape shop owners, who say they are helping people quit smoking tobacco cigarettes, and that they will lose their businesses when the ban takes effect.

With just two council members voting against the motion, the ban on flavored e-cigarettes in New York will take place immediately. Shop owners will have two weeks to remove the products from their shelves.

A.Currell / Flickr

The vaping industry is reacting to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s upcoming ban on flavored e-cigarettes, saying that it is misguided and will force many small-business owners to close their shops and lay off employees. Some are predicting legal action.

Cuomo, speaking on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show one day after announcing the planned ban, said the flavored e-cigarettes are designed to addict children to nicotine.

Jason Smith / WRVO News (file photo)

The first hearing of a state commission to implement a public campaign finance system for New York's elections was overshadowed by the issue of whether to end fusion voting, which allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines.

Critics of the proposal say Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to strike against a left-leaning party that he's been feuding with, something the governor denies.

Governor Cuomo's Office / Flickr

Calling it an "industrywide conspiracy," Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his intention to file a lawsuit for the overprescription of opioids that he said has defrauded New Yorkers out of billions of dollars. 

Cuomo said his Department of Financial Services is gathering evidence for a lawsuit that he said extends beyond the drugmakers to the drug distributors and pharmacies for what the governor said is systemwide "fraud" that went on for decades.

Governor Cuomo's office / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state health department are continuing to urge New Yorkers to refrain from using any vaping products while an investigation continues into the cause of a mysterious vaping-related lung ailment that has now sickened 41 New Yorkers. 

The governor is making the recommendation after reports of about 500 cases of the disease nationwide and five deaths. It appears to be related to vaping black-market cannabis products with THC that also contain vitamin E oil, which is harmful when inhaled.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News (file photo)

A law that decriminalizes possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana took effect Wednesday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it's "long overdue." But some advocates say the law does not go far enough.

Starting Wednesday, possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana is punishable by a $50 fine. Anyone caught with 2 ounces of cannabis would be fined up to $200. The measure also creates a mechanism to expunge the records for some past marijuana convictions.

WRVO Public Media

The ranks of Senate Republicans in New York have been greatly diminished over the past year, with losses in the November elections and other GOP senators saying this summer that they are seeking new jobs. 

Republicans held the state Senate for nearly a century, with only a pair of two-year breaks when the Democrats gained power. But that ended last November, when the GOP lost eight seats. They now have just 22 Republican senators to the Democrats' 40 seats. 

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

A plan by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration to require motorists to pay a $25 fee to replace aging license plates is getting some resistance. But the governor said it’s needed to comply with new cashless scanners being set up on toll roads and bridges all over the state.

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. 

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