Karen DeWitt

Albany Reporter

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.

DeWitt 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 by the Women’s Press Club of New York State.

DeWitt has served as a panelist for numerous political debates, including the 2014 gubernatorial debate sponsored by WNED|WBFO

Ways to Connect

Karen Dewitt

A unanimous vote by the state ethics board appears to launch a full investigation into the Assembly’s sexual harassment scandal.  

In the second meeting in less than a week, the Joint Public Ethics Commission bent its own rules and announced that a vote had been taken to launch what it called a “substantial” investigation. 

The disclosure followed an hour long public debate, where commissioners of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver complained that the commission’s secrecy and leaks to the media were impugning the integrity of the ethics panel.  

Governor Cuomo, addressing New York’s delegation in Charlotte, harshly denounced Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s budget and other GOP policies.

The rhetoric stands in sharp contrast to his cordial relationship with legislative Republicans in the  state Capitol.

Cuomo delivered a spirited repudiation of Ryan’s fiscally conservative budget policies, blending sarcasm with outrage to enthusiastic New York Democrats.  

“First they say ‘well, we have economic trouble’,” said Cuomo. “Thank you for that startling revelation. I wouldn’t have known.”

The state’s Republican Party is turning a familiar Democratic Party accusation back against the Assembly Democrats, who are involved in a sexual harassment scandal.  

New York’s GOP Chair Ed Cox says it’s the Assembly Democrats who are engaging in a “war on women”, after  Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez was censured for sexual harassment, and it was revealed that the Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had authorized a previous secret settlement against two other alleged Lopez victims.

WBFO News photo

The state’s ethics board held a closed door meeting Tuesday and is believed to be discussing whether to investigate Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez and possibly the Assembly Speaker, over a sexual harassment scandal.

WBFO News photo

The state’s ethics board has called a special meeting immediately after Labor Day.

The news comes after Governor Cuomo and others have called for an investigation of a sexual harassment scandal in the State Assembly.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, has called a special meeting for Tuesday, September 4th.  

There are signs that the state’s finances are getting healthier, but local governments in New York continue to flounder.

Governor Cuomo and his budget director, Robert Megna announced that the state finally got an upgrade in an assessment from a major rating agency. Standard and Poors changed the state’s outlook from “stable” to “positive”.   

Megna says he hopes that lays the groundwork for an improvement in the state’s credit rating, which has been ranked as weak for decades.

Over the course of three days, an Assemblyman has been censured by the chamber’s ethics committee for sexual harassment, and a State Senator has been arrested on corruption charges.  

The two join the long list of lawmakers who have been indicted, arrested, convicted and jailed in the past several years.

Photo by Marie Cusick/WMHT

Anti-fracking advocates rallied in Albany to try to convince Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban the natural gas drilling process in New York. The advocates included actress Debra Winger, filmmaker Josh Fox and environmental leader Bill McKibben,  as well as activists from communities across New York’s Southern Tier.  They asked Governor Cuomo to tell his environmental officials not to go ahead with fracking  in New York.Debra Winger appealed to the appearance- conscious Cuomo’s sense of legacy, and asked him to rethink his plans, and “push the rest button”.Author and activist Bill McKibben says t

The contentious issue of hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, in New York State continues to divide residents. 

A recent Siena College poll shows likely voters are evenly divided on whether they want fracking allowed in the state: 39 percent support it, 38 percent are opposed, while 23 percent either have no opinion or don't have enough information. 

"You also have to look at this from a regional perspective," said Siena pollster Steve Greenberg.

Governor Cuomo and his aides have announced a plan to increase voter registration, allowing on line vote registration for the first time, by linking the process to Internet applications for drivers licenses.

Up until now, New Yorkers could register to vote when they went to their local Department of Motor Vehicle Office to update their driver’s license, or non-driver’s ID card. Now, they will be able to complete the process on line.

The move was praised by representatives of government reform groups, including the League of Women Voters’ Sally Robinson.

Karen Dewitt

Governor Cuomo announced he’s easing some environmental regulations so that dairy farmers can more easily own more cows. 

Cuomo chaired a  public meeting that brought together dairy farmers, yogurt makers and an array of state officials.  He says with the phenomenal success of Greek yogurt, the struggling upstate economy has been presented with one of the best entrepreneurial opportunities in “30 or 40 years”.

“When you see an opportunity, grab it,” Cuomo advised. “And make it happen.”

The rapid growth Greek yogurt has revived the dairy industry in New York. 

The head of the State’s Republican Party predicts that the choice of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential candidate will be helpful in some portions of New York State.

New York’s GOP Chair Ed Cox says Ryan’s position as number two on the Republican ticket in November could aid the GOP congressional candidates around the state, who are already identified as strong fiscal conservatives.

“I think it’s going to play very well in New York State, “said Cox.  

The New York State Thruway Authority begins hearings later this week on whether to impose a nearly 50 percent toll hike on trucks that use the toll highway.

Many who plan to attend the hearings will testify against the idea, saying it’s bad for business.

Business groups, along with the trucking industry, have objected, saying it would increase prices for every company that relies on trucks for shipping.

Photo NYS Court of Appeals Website

In the next couple of years, Governor Andrew Cuomo may have the chance to shape the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, as several judges reach the end of their terms or the mandatory retirement age. It’s an opportunity no New York governor has had in a generation. 

In the next couple of years, Governor Andrew Cuomo may have the chance to shape the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, as several judges reach the end of their terms or the mandatory retirement age. It’s an opportunity no New York governor has had in a generation.

The American Cancer Society has given New York State a mixed report card when it comes to cancer prevention. 

The group says the most glaring error is the lack of investment in anti-smoking campaigns.

The annual report card from the American Cancer Society rates states on how well they are doing to prevent cancer through encouraging cancer screenings, banning smoking from public places, and smoking prevention programs.

In the wake of increased gun violence in New York and two mass shootings in the nation in the last few weeks, a state senator is proposing stricter gun laws that he says could give New York the toughest gun laws in the country.

Senator Mike Gianaris says he’s working on a package of bills that would limit gun purchases by New Yorkers and help curb what he says is growing  gun violence in the state and the nation.

“It’s certainly a matter of pressing urgency,” said Gianaris, who says gun violence in New York City is up 12% over last year.

Governor Cuomo defended his administration against criticisms that he has not been transparent enough, saying he’s trying to do more.

Governor Cuomo defended his record of releasing documents and other information to the public, saying his administration has taken “unprecedented steps” and has gone to “exorbitant” levels to communicate.  Cuomo was the target of newspaper editorial recently that criticized him for being secretive and controlling in his handling of archive files during his time as Attorney General, among other things.

A report from the State Comptroller finds local governments are struggling financially with around 10 percent running deficits or suffering from cash flow problems.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli finds that of more than 4000 local governments and school districts, 300 report budget deficits, and 100 don’t have enough cash on hand to pay all of their bills. Many municipalities that are in the black are only keeping afloat financially by spending down their reserves.

WBFO News photo

Governor Cuomo says he’s starting  a new effort to push campaign finance reform in New York’s elections.

Governor Cuomo pledged during his election campaign that he would work toward reforming the state’s campaign finance system, which contains loopholes that permit nearly unlimited amounts of money to be given to candidates.   The governor listed public financing of campaigns as a goal in his State of the State message in January, but then failed to actively pursue the topic. The governor says there was a reason.

A coalition of business groups is opposing a proposed 45% toll hike for trucks on the New York State Thruway, saying it will have a “drastic” impact on manufacturing, farming, and many other industries.   

Unshackle Upstate is  a member of the coalition,  which argues that the toll hike for commercial vehicles with three or more axles will put the state’s tucking industry and all the businesses that use trucks to haul goods at a “competitive disadvantage”.

Governor Andrew Cuomo offered some support to a plan to permit hydrofracking in New York in communities that welcome the gas drilling process.

Numerous sources and published reports have said that the Cuomo Administration may permit hydrofracking  in some communities in New York’s Southern Tier  where the majority of residents  want natural gas drilling .

Communities that are mainly opposed to fracking would not be forced to accept drilling.   

WBFO News file photo

An important deadline in the state’s ongoing teacher evaluation process occurred Sunday, but most schools likely missed it.  

The law establishing new teacher evaluations set July 1 as the date for schools around the state to submit their plans to the State Education Department. The evaluations are required in order to qualify for federal grant money that New York State won under the Race to the Top program.

But only around 65 of the states more than 700 school districts will be ready, says New York State School Boards Association’s executive director Tim Kremer.

Karen Dewitt

New York’s politicians and major health care providers are applauding the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold President Obama’s health care law.  Meanwhile, an Albany Law School expert says Chief Justice John Roberts may have been concerned about his legacy, and that was a factor in his decision.  

The just concluded 2012 legislative session brought mixed results for Governor Cuomo, who is in his second year as governor.  While Cuomo and lawmakers could claim credit for a calm and functional end to the session,  the Governor had to drop some of his original goals  in order for that to happen.

Governor Cuomo’s second legislative session was far less dramatic than his first legislative session in 2011, when he convinced the legislature to authorize same sex marriage, instate a 2% property tax cap, and close a massive $10 billion  budget deficit.

WBFO News photo

It’s the first time in around 40 years that New York has held June primaries.

The state was forced to change the date from September to be in compliance with a federal  rule that requires  adequate time between primary day and election day to distribute election ballots to service men and women overseas.  

Turn out is expected to be low, for that reason and a number of other factors.  

The only statewide primary features three largely unknown candidates who want a shot at running against US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

The state legislature ended its session in an orderly fashion for the first time in decades, but  the lack of last minute negotiations means that some issues were left unresolved, and it’s likely that lawmakers will be back at the Capitol later this year.

Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders took a victory lap as the session wound down to a close.

“I believe that this legislative session is one of the most successful in modern political history,” Cuomo said.

The state legislature ended their 2012 session Thursday evening as lawmakers had promised, but they did not manage to finish everything on their list before they left. Governor Cuomo calls the 2012 legislative session the most successful in “modern political history”, and a “magnificent accomplishment.” “We did what we said we would do,” Cuomo said. Lawmakers in the final hours agreed to approve the governor’s bill to publicly disclose teacher evaluations,  but Cuomo failed to persuade the Republican led Senate to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.  “We’re ending the session with a b

There was a little bit of drama in an otherwise mundane end to the legislative session when Senate Republicans agreed in the final hours to approve Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal on how to make teacher evaluations public.

Senate Republicans, on the final day of the session, agreed to take up Cuomo’s bill, which will make public all teacher evaluations without names attached. Parents would then be able to obtain the specific evaluations of their own child’s teacher.

The legislative session that’s concluding in Albany seems to be more about what’s not getting done that what is getting accomplished.  Governor Andrew Cuomo at this time last year was intensely lobbying lawmakers to pass a bill to legalize gay marriage. This year, he has taken a more hands off approach to the end of the current legislative session. The governor introduced a bill on how to make teacher evaluations public, but said he would not push the legislature to approve it. “If the Senate or the Assembly want to pass the bill, great,” Cuomo said.

Governor Cuomo is telling the legislature to ‘take it or leave it’ over a new bill he’s released new bill outlining how to make teacher evaluations public.

Governor Cuomo says he introduced  legislation on the publication of teacher evaluations just before his own self imposed deadline of midnight Monday in order  to clarify his position on the issue.  

He says it’s up the Assembly and Senate whether they want to pass it, exactly as is, or not.

“That’s the bill, the bill is not going to change,” said Cuomo.