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Capitol Bureau

Capitol Bureau correspondent Karen DeWitt reports on what is happening in Albany, and how the decisions made by lawmakers affect you. Karen reports for WXXI and 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 New York Now, the statewide public television program about New York State government seen on WXXI-TV Sundays at 6:30 p.m.  

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A state panel tasked with reducing the state’s Medicaid budget voted on a plan to cut $2.5 billion out of the state’s health care system.

But the commission’s work likely falls far short of closing a widening budget deficit that the coronavirus pandemic is expected to create.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is taking more steps to reduce human density in the workplace in light of the rapidly spreading coronavirus. He said just 25% of employees can now come into the office.

“We’re reducing it again except for essential services,” said Cuomo, who added he is asking all businesses to voluntarily have all employees work from home. 

The governor said the steps are necessary to continue to try to flatten the curve and help prevent overwhelming the hospitals in the coming weeks.

New York state lawmakers voted in nearly empty chambers Wednesday on bills -- including one to give quarantined New Yorkers paid sick leave -- as they adopted new meeting rules to limit spreading the novel coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the chief sponsor of the bill to legalize adult use of recreational marijuana said it likely will not be in the budget plan for now.

In the Senate, just five lawmakers were present: the Democratic and Republican leaders, presiding president of the Senate and the two floor leaders, along with three staff members. 

There will be new restrictions on working in New York state as Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued new mandatory density reductions Wednesday to help control the spread of the coronavirus.

Cuomo and the governors of New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania also moved to close the indoor portions of retail shopping malls, amusement parks and bowling alleys in their states by 8 p.m. Thursday.

Meanwhile, New York is getting help from the federal government to increase hospital beds.  

WRVO Ryan Delaney

The New York state comptroller said the state’s revenues are plunging, along with the stock market, and that spells a difficult time ahead for the New York budget. 

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli was asked by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to recalculate the state’s finances, and he said the picture does not look good. He said the current $6 billion deficit will grow to $10 billion to $13 billion. 

“This is an extraordinary time that we are going through, and it makes estimating the revenue impact of the pandemic very, very difficult,” DiNapoli said.  

Governor Cuomo's office

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that he may take more steps soon to stop the spread of the coronavirus, including ordering the closure of most businesses, but he hasn't made that decision yet.

The governor, trying to tamp down rumors spreading on social media, also said he has no plans at this time to quarantine any cities in the state.

Just a few hours later, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said city residents should be prepared in the next 48 hours to possibly shelter in place. But he said he won’t give the order without consulting with the governor.

Karen DeWitt/WXXI News

The state Legislature postponed its session until at least Wednesday to figure out how to conduct its business safely under new regulations released by the Centers for Disease Control regarding human density in light of the spreading novel coronavirus.

The governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut made the joint decision to close all bars and restaurants in those states beginning at 8 p.m. Monday to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also said all schools in New York state will be closed as of the end of Monday, and the New York State Legislature has postponed its session.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office

The New York City public schools will close until April 20, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is ordering all downstate nonessential state workers to stay home starting Monday.

But he says the legislative session will continue as planned this week, despite two state lawmakers now sick with the corona virus.

Meanwhile, a third New Yorker, a 79-year-old woman from New York City with underlying health conditions, has also died from the virus.

Matt Ryan New York Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said due to the worsening situation with the spreading coronavirus, he and the Legislature will work to finish the state budget this week, two weeks early, so that they can get their work finished before anyone falls ill.

The announcement comes as news that two members of the State Assembly now have the virus.

In a tweet, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced that two Assembly members -- Helene Weinstein and Charles Barron, both of Brooklyn -- have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

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