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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The New York State Legislature has announced it will hold hearings on Feb. 13 about sexual harassment in state government.

The announcement was hailed by a group of women who have experienced or reported being victims of sexual harassment by state lawmakers. 

Six Assembly and Senate committees will take testimony from those they call “relevant stakeholders,” and said they hope to engage in a “meaningful dialogue” on the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace. But they said they won’t take any individual sexual harassment complaints at the hearing.

Jim Bowen / Flickr

The New York State Legislature has been more active during the first few days of the session than it has in many years.

On Monday, both houses of the Legislature got together and approved matching bills to expand voting in the state beyond just Election Day to 11 full days.

On Tuesday, they extended rights in employment and housing to transgender New Yorkers. The bills are now being sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign or veto.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

The New York State Legislature for the first time granted civil rights to transgender New Yorkers. And on a busy day at the State Capitol, Gov. Andrew Cuomo also released his $175 billion budget plan. 

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The Senate and Assembly approved measures Monday to expand the window in which New Yorkers can vote in elections, from one day to 11 days. The action comes at the start at what is anticipated to be a busy week at the State Capitol that includes the release of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget plan.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News (file photo)

The Democratic-led New York State Legislature is set for a big week.

Action is planned on Monday to implement early voting in the state, and on Tuesday to grant more civil rights to transgender New Yorkers. Gov. Andrew Cuomo also will release his budget proposal.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The New York state legislative session began with ceremonies and excitement as Democrats claimed their solid majority in the state Senate and made history with the election of a new female leader.

They promised to act quickly on a long list of progressive issues, including strengthening abortion rights and expanding voter access.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, in her role as Senate president, was the first to introduce Andrea Stewart-Cousins in her groundbreaking role as the first woman and African-American woman to serve as Senate leader in the body’s 241 years.

Brett Levin / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is set to release details of a plan to make recreational marijuana legal in New York state when he outlines his budget proposal later this month. Even the governor concedes, though, that there are many unanswered questions about how to proceed.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News (file photo)

Democratic state legislators are beginning the New Year with some resentment towards Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo over a deal that gives them a big raise – but comes with several strings attached.

In March 2018, Cuomo and the legislature agreed to set up a pay commission to examine the salaries of Senators, Assemblymembers, and the Governor, who had not seen a raise in 20 years.

The deal permitted the commission to have the final say on whether pay would go up, so lawmakers would not be required to cast a potentially unpopular vote to raise their own salaries.

New York State Senate

On Jan. 9, Democrats will officially take over the state Senate for only the third time in more than a century.

They expect to act quickly on a number of measures that have been bottled up in the chamber for years — but there could be some friction between them and the state’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo began his third term in office with a speech at the historic site of Ellis Island Tuesday evening, where the ancestors of millions of Americans arrived as immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries. He focused much of his speech not on state issues, but instead on what he sees as the nation’s problems, and said New York will lead the fight against them.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo begins his third term in office January 1 with a planned address on Ellis Island, the site of major immigration to the United States during the 20th Century. The governor’s next years in office will likely be spent seeking a more progressive agenda than he has in the past.

Matt Ryan / New York Now (file photo)

Religious and progressive groups say they will press Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to adopt what they call a "moral" state budget in 2019. The groups brought their views to the Capitol just before Christmas. 

The Rev. Peter Cook with the New York State Council of Churches said the new legislative session should focus on the higher goals of fighting poverty and racism, protecting the environment and strengthening democracy. 

BaronBrian / Flickr

The state’s Drinking Water Quality Council has issued what it considers to be safe levels for exposure to toxic chemicals, including PFOAs and PFOS that have been found in high quantities in some of New York’s drinking water supplies.

Supporters say the Cuomo administration now needs to quickly take action to implement standards that they say are long overdue. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo addressed threats to the drinking water supply when he laid out his agenda for 2019 in a recent speech, saying, "There is a growing water crisis in our state."

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo laid out his 2019 agenda earlier this week, he promised that a bill protecting abortion rights for New York’s women would become law by the end of January. Supporters say they are pleased that the measure may finally move, but they also say it’s not time to be complacent.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is beginning 2019 a little early. Cuomo, in a speech at the New York City Bar Association, outlined what he admits is an ambitious agenda for the first 100 days of his third term, which starts Jan. 1.  

Cuomo’s plans for the new year include codifying the abortion rights in the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade into state law. He also wants to protect the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act in state statute, including protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

J. Stephen Conn / Flickr

A government reform group has filed a lawsuit to stop a pay raise granted to state lawmakers by a compensation commission.

The conservative-leaning Government Justice Center said the salary increase is unconstitutional because it also "radically" changes the rules surrounding serving in the state Legislature. The group filed papers in State Supreme Court in Albany on Friday morning.

Brett Levin / Flickr

People who support legalizing recreational marijuana for adults in New York say 2019 may be the year that it happens. At a conference to explore the best way to craft legislation, participants also said it needs to include reparative justice for communities most adversely affected by the decades-long marijuana prohibition in New York.

Jim Bowen / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he backs a pay commission’s recommendation that he and the Legislature receive a more than 60 percent pay increase over the next three years, which would make Cuomo the highest-paid governor in the nation.

Under the recommendations of the pay commission, released Monday evening, the pay of state senators and Assembly members would increase from the current $79,500 base salary to $110,000 on Jan. 1 and rise to $130,000 a year by January 2021.

Colleen / via Flickr

The state Board of Regents has recommended that an additional $2.1 billion be spent on schools next year, and that a 12-year-old court order to fully fund schools be phased in over the next three years.

The proposal is being applauded by school funding advocacy groups.

Matt Ryan / New York Now (file photo)

Democrats are poised to lead the state Senate starting next month, but they will still lack power on the state’s ethics panel. A law implemented several years ago will allow Republicans in the chamber to hold the majority of seats.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, was created during the first year of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s term in office. At the time, the governor described it as an "independent monitor that will aggressively investigate corruption and help maintain integrity in state government."

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News (file photo)

A pay commission for New York’s statewide elected officials recommends a hefty increase to the salaries of the governor, state senators and Assembly members, but there are some strings attached.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News (file photo)

Democrats who will run the state Senate in January say a top priority will be to expand access to voting in New York. Advocates say there are several steps they can take.

The incoming Senate leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, said New York is one of the last states in the nation that hasn’t expanded voting beyond Election Day. She said that by the next presidential election in 2020, that will change and New Yorkers will have more options to vote early and eventually, vote by mail from home.

formulanone / Flickr

Some newly elected state Senate Democrats want New York to adopt a single-payer health care system, but that may put them at odds with other Democratic Senators who do not want to raise taxes.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he had a "positive" meeting with President Donald Trump on Wednesday at the White House to talk about funding for a key train tunnel connecting Manhattan to New Jersey.

Cuomo spent the primary and general election season berating Trump and his policies, including at an appearance last summer at a Brooklyn church.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The New York State Senate made history on two fronts Monday as it elected Andrea Stewart-Cousins to be the first woman, and the first African-American woman, to head the chamber in January.

Stewart-Cousins, who has led the Democrats in the Senate since 2012, is poised to become the Senate’s next majority party leader after Democrats won 40 seats in November’s elections. She was a teacher and a journalist before being elected to represent Yonkers in the Westchester County Legislature.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The state’s mayors are moving away from a state aid program for localities that they say has not been well-funded in recent years and trying a new way to get the governor’s and the Legislature’s attention as the 2019 state budget season approaches. 

For decades, mayors have received state aid for their cities through the Aid and Incentives to Municipalities program, or AIM. But funding has been flat in recent years, even though cities’ expenses have been steadily growing, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo tried to hold the line on state spending increases.

WRVO News (file photo)

It’s been 20 years since the governor and the Legislature in New York received a pay raise. But that might be changing in January. A panel formed to determine future pay for lawmakers is holding hearings and will make a recommendation by Dec. 10.

Since 1998, there’s been no change to the base pay of $79,500 per year for senators and Assembly members, although many make several thousand dollars more a year in stipends for leadership posts or for chairing committees. They also receive $174 to cover expenses every day that they are in Albany on business. 

nysenate.gov

State Senate GOP Leader John Flanagan was re-elected as the leader of the Republicans in that chamber on Friday, surviving a challenge from upstate Sen. Cathy Young of Olean.

But come January, he’ll be in charge of the minority party. In elections earlier this month, Democrats won enough seats to take control of the Senate for only the third time in the last century. 

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Progressive-leaning groups said Wednesday that now that more Democrats have been elected to the state Senate, they’ll hold the legislators’ feet to the fire in January to ensure that measures like bail reform and legalizing marijuana are swiftly enacted into law.

New York State Senate

When the state Legislature convenes for the 2019 session, one of the first items that’s expected to be voted on is the Reproductive Health Act. It would codify the abortion rights in the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade into New York state law.

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