Karen DeWitt

Capitol Bureau Correspondent

 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 Assembly voted to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9 an hour. But the measure remains stalled in the State Senate.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver added yet another reason to his long list of reasons he thinks the state’e minimum wage is too low and needs to be increased. He says we are in the midst of a “jobless recovery”, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average at a record high, past 14,000.

A push to ban the fitness supplement DMAA brought a sports hero to the capitol and parents who say they lost their son to the substance.

Senate Co Leader Jeff Klein is pressing to ban the performance enhancing supplement DMAA, also know n as Jack 3 D in New York ,saying it causes dangerous conditions like rapid heart beat, a spike in blood pressure, and in some cases, death from stroke or heart attack.

“This won’t be tolerated,” Senator Klein said.

Senate Republicans are pushing for middle class tax breaks in the new state budget, including a return to the STAR property tax rebate checks curtailed in 2009.

Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos wants to increase the tax break for dependents and the child tax credit , and return to the rebate checks for home owners part of the  STAR  property tax program. He says the average family of four could end up with $1000 more dollars each year.

“It always seems that middle income family is the family that is getting choked in this state ,” Skelos said.

Governor Cuomo faces a tough choice as he continues to ponder the decision on whether to allow fracking in New York.  As Karen DeWitt reports, there’s no easy way to win for the governor.

It seems wherever Governor Cuomo goes these days, he’s followed by protesters who implore him not to allow hydro fracking in New York.  Hundreds gathered in the ornate Million Dollar staircase in the Capitol, where they listen to celebrities and actors like Mark Ruffalo, aka the Hulk.

“We’ll cream you if you open New York State to hydro fracking,” Ruffalo bellowed, to cheers.

A rally against New York’s newly enacted gun control laws drew one of the largest crowds to the State Capitol in recent decades.

With just three weeks and one day to go before a state budget deadline, Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders met to assess how far they have to go to reach a deal.

In order to meet their self imposed deadline of March 21st to complete a spending plan, Governor Cuomo and lawmakers will have to work through some thorny issues like disagreements over the state’s minimum wage and how to expand casino gambling.

“We have a number of issues on the table that are challenging,” Cuomo said. “It’s going well, but am I concerned? Yes”.

A leading budget watchdog group is urging rejection of a key component of Governor Cuomo’s budget plan. It would allow cities and schools to put off some payments to their pension funds.

The Governor’s proposal, known as the pension stabilization plan, would allow schools and municipalities to “smooth” out their pension payments over a 25 year period, by paying less now, but more later.

Governor Cuomo made several changes to his budget plan in 30 day amendments . As Karen DeWitt reports, the amendments range from imposing a teacher evaluation plan on New York City, to cutting the cost of hunting licenses.

Cuomo amended his budget to impose a teacher evaluation system on New York City. The Bloomberg Administration and the teacher’s union failed to reach agreement by a January deadline set by Cuomo, and the City stood to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in school aid.

The state’s largest teachers union has filed a lawsuit against the state’s property tax cap, arguing it’s unconstitutional.

New York State United Teachers President Dick Iannuzzi says the cap, passed by Cuomo and the legislature in 2011, arbitrarily limits property tax increase to 2%, regardless of whether a school district is rich or poor. The lawsuit also charges that the tax cap violates the principle of one person one vote, because a supermajority of 60% of voters is required to override the cap.

A group pressing for public campaign financing has compiled a list of large corporations who gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to some New York lawmakers. They charge that the donations are preventing the legislature from closing what they say are corporate tax loopholes.

A document from Governor Cuomo’s Administration assessing the health impacts of hydro fracking, written several months ago, says the gas drilling process is likely safe if proper precautions are taken by the governor’s environmental agency. 

A February deadline on New York’s process to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing will be missed, with Governor Cuomo’s Health Commissioner now saying he needs more time to complete an ongoing health study.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah said he wants to study potential health impacts from hydrofracking further, and will review some new comprehensive studies on  health and fracking that have been released over the past few weeks.

Dueling pro and anti fracking filmmakers held screenings and promotions for their films, as they await a decision by Governor Cuomo on whether fracking will go forward in New York. That could come by the end of the month. At one point in the day, the two sides confronted each other in the halls of the Capitol.

Phelim McAleer is the creator of Fracknation, a film that claims to rebut charges made by environmentalists and the popular anti fracking movie “Gasland”. He came to Albany to hold a screening of his film.

Governor Cuomo’s Court of Appeals nominee was approved in the State Senate on a voice vote, after an unusually contentious process.

Cuomo’s nominee Jenny Rivera had already faced extensive grilling from Senate Republicans, who are in a coalition government with several break away Democrats. Then, during the vote on the Senate floor, some GOP Senators rose to say that she was not the best candidate.

New York’s newest Senator, Cecilia Tkaczyk, has been on the job for just over a week now, after a two and half month long court battle over absentee ballots resulted in her narrrow eighteen-vote win. Tkaczyk, a sheep farmer, school board member and former legislative housing analyst, is a Democrat who won the newly drawn Senate seat in the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys that was designed for a Republican.

Senator Tkaczyk says she remained confident during the lengthy legal machinations.

Governor Cuomo’s pension stabilization plan could face some obstacles in the legislature. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says he wants to know what the State Comptroller thinks of the idea first.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says he’s not ready to sign on yet to Governor Cuomo’s plan to allow local governments and schools to “smooth” out pension payments over time, that would allow them to pay less now and more for them later.

Governor Cuomo’s championing of strict new gun control laws in New York has taken a toll on his popularity. A new poll finds that for the first time since taking office, Cuomo’s approval rating has dropped significantly.

The Quinnipiac University poll finds the governor’s approval rating plunged from an all time high of 74% in in December to 59% now. Cuomo lost the most among Republicans, though he also dropped 10 points with Democrats, says pollster Mickey Carroll.

“His numbers overall are way, way down,” said Carroll.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos says he’s strongly opposed to Governor Cuomo’s reproductive health act, saying it would lead to too many late term abortions. Pro choice lawmakers and advocates say they disagree with the Senator’s interpretation.

Senator Skelos first voiced his opposition to the Governor’s reproductive health act at the State’s Conservative party meeting, where some conservatives have been angered by the GOP leader’s vote on strict gun control measures earlier in January.

Governor Cuomo has proposed raising the minimum wage as part of his budget plan, even though the increase would not cost New York State any money. That tactic might make it easier for the proposal to become law.

Governor Cuomo’s annual budget presentation is slated for today. It comes as the State’s Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli, finds revenues are not coming to New York in quite the amount anticipated.

In the 2 PM presentation, the governor is expected to explain how’s he’s going to pay for programs announced earlier this month in his State of the State message, including an expanded school day and school year.

Governor Cuomo, facing his third lean fiscal year as governor, closes a $1.3 billion dollar budget gap by holding spending flat for state agencies, which he estimates will save $434 million dollars, and putting off a cost-of-living increase for health care providers, worth $412 million dollars. He wants to raid a fund for workers compensation, with the promise of reforming the entire system, and raise a small number of fees, including higher fines for texting or using a cell phone while driving.

Cuomo says it’s a “different mentality” than the old days.

A new poll finds voters show overwhelming support for many of the items that Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing, including parts of the newly enacted gun control law. 

Steve Greenberg, with Siena College, says the poll asked voters whether they wanted New York to have the strongest anti gun laws in the nation, including banning assault weapons and outlawing magazine clips that hold more than seven bullets. Greenberg says the measures have broad support, at 73% to 26%.

Mental health advocates have some concerns over portions of the gun control laws approved by Governor Cuomo and the legislature this week.

The unique new governing coalition in the New York State Senate passed its first test , on the first full day of session, when Senators approved a sweeping gun control package urged by Governor Cuomo.

Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the five member faction of Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference, took a gamble breaking away from the rest of the Democrats and forming the dominant governing coalition with the now 30 Republican Senators. Senator Klein admits that many believed the first test would be the success or failure of the gun control package

The New York state legislature is passing the toughest in the nation gun control laws laid out by Governor Cuomo . The Senate voted late Monday evening , and the Assembly was expected to act Tuesday morning.

The measures close loopholes in the state’s existing assault weapons ban to now include all assault rifles. Owners of the weapons will be allowed to keep their guns, but must register them and can’t sell them to others in New York State.  Magazine clips holding more than seven bullets will also be outlawed.

New details are emerging on gun control legislation that lawmakers say could be passed as early as today.

Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein predicts that New York State could have the toughest in the nation gun control laws before Tuesday that includes closing loopholes in the assault weapons ban and strengthened penalties for illegal guns. 

“When all is said and done, we’re going to pass a comprehensive gun bill today,” Klein said.

Anti-fracking activists, including Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon, attempted to present the state’s environmental agency with over 200,000 comments, on the last day of a public comment period on the gas drilling process.They also tried to deliver a letter to Governor Cuomo.

The wife and son of slain Beatle John Lennon traveled to the Capitol on what could be the last day of the final public comment period on whether hydro fracking should go forward in New York.

Yoko Ono says Governor Cuomo  should “tell the truth” about fracking.

Governor Andrew Cuomo,in his third State of the State message Wednesday asked lawmakers to help him “stop the madness”, and pass tough new anti-gun legislation. Cuomo also focused on changes to better prepare for future  superstorms and to approve a new women’s equality act.

The Governor’s 2013 State of the State speech will spend some time on what was perhaps the biggest event of 2012, Superstorm Sandy. Cuomo, in the days leading up to his speech, has heard reports from three post-storm related commissions that he appointed.  He says he’ll incorporate some of their ideas, like better standardized training for emergency response workers, privatizing the Long Island Power Authority, which had a poor track record restoring power after the storm, and stricter regulation of the other electric utilities.

Governor Cuomo and Republicans in the Senate remain at an impasse over gun control legislation - just two days before the State of the State.

Meanwhile, the State Comptroller says he’s thinking of  divesting the state’s pension fund from investments in gun manufacturers.

Governor Cuomo has been negotiating  with the legislature to try to come up with a package of gun control measures to be put into law this month. But in recent days, Cuomo and Senate Republicans have been trading press releases that reveal the depth of the impasse.

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