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.  

New York state announced its first deaths from the coronavirus Saturday as Gov. Andrew Cuomo said insurance companies will waive co-pays for tele-virus tests.

An 82-year-old woman who had advanced emphysema died Friday at Wyckoff Medical Center in Brooklyn, where she had been in critical condition after being admitted last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Hours later, authorities in Rockland County confirmed that a 65-year-old with "other significant health problems" had died Thursday after contracting the highly infectious disease.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday opened a drive-through coronavirus testing center in New Rochelle, which is at the epicenter of the disease in New York.

He also announced that the state now has more people with the disease than any other state in the country.

The drive-through center has six lanes and can test up to 500 people a day in New Rochelle and the surrounding communities. Residents have to make an appointment first.

A Supreme Court justice struck down New York’s new public campaign financing law after challenges were brought by two minor parties that said the rules unfairly discriminated against them. 

The commission, which was dominated by appointees of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and criticized for its secrecy, implemented a plan last November that would enact a public matching donor program. But it also placed strict new limits on the abilities of minor parties to qualify to be on the ballot. 

All public gatherings of 500 people or more are banned in New York starting Friday, and Broadway shows are effectively shut down as of Thursday evening, under a directive from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo said the aim is to reduce population density to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. State health officials reported 109 new cases Thursday, for a total of 325.

The governor said the predicted spread of COVID-19 is a public health emergency, and so he has to take “dramatic” steps. 

“To reduce the number of people in contagious environments,” Cuomo said.

Despite growing coronavirus concerns, the New York State Capitol is so far staying open to the public, and the legislature is continuing to meet -- although Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he's considering banning visitors to the Capitol at some point in the near future.

With three weeks until the state budget deadline, it’s prime lobbying season in Albany. But groups hoping to have their voices heard have the tough choice of whether to show up -- or stay home. 

Governor Cuomo's office

The vast state and city university systems in New York are switching to long-distance learning March 19, and most students will be going home due to worries about the coronavirus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

The governor also said the state is contracting with 28 private labs to speed up what's been a slow process of testing potential virus victims.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state health officials imposed unprecedented restrictions in a one-mile radius in the city of New Rochelle in Westchester County in an attempt to contain what is currently New York’s epicenter of the coronavirus.

Cuomo, speaking Tuesday at a briefing on the spread of the virus, said the two-week closure of schools, a temple and all other places within the designated zone where there are large gatherings of people will help contain the illness from further spreading.

Governor Cuomo's office

The head of the state’s Port Authority has tested positive for coronavirus, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s health officials are releasing a plan for possible school closures if a child is found to have the illness.

Meanwhile, the state is manufacturing its own hand sanitizer to deal with the shortage of the disinfectant product.

New York Now

Crystal Peoples-Stokes, the first African American woman to serve as Assembly majority leader, is the prime sponsor in her house of a bill to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana in New York.

In an interview for public radio and television with WXXI's Karen DeWitt, the Buffalo Democrat said the decades-long prohibition of cannabis had a detrimental effect on communities like the one she represents, and she wants the measure to funnel some of the revenue from the sale of the drug back to those communities.

Karen DeWitt/WXXI News


The leader of the New York State Senate said it's likely that changes will soon be made to the state's new bail reform laws, which end most forms of cash bail for nonviolent offenses.

Meanwhile, the state's chief judge also called for amendments to the laws.

Since the law took effect on Jan. 1, law enforcement groups have highlighted select cases of repeat offenders going free under the new rules. Some Democratic senators in more conservative districts have expressed concerns.