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.  

Attorneys in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office are plowing through a record number of bills passed by the State Legislature this year, and deciding which ones to sign, and which ones to veto.

Some measures have support but still might not make it into law this year, including one that would outlaw some harmful chemicals in children’s toys.


Gov. Andrew Cuomo is releasing some of his proposals for the new year early, and one of them is a plan to ban polystyrene -- a plastic foam commonly known as Styrofoam -- in takeout containers from restaurants and fast-food outlets.

It follows the passage of a new law to ban single-use plastic bags in New York, which takes effect in March.


Beginning in March, New York will ban single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and other retail outlets, which supporters believe will cut down on residents’ use of an estimated 23 billion plastic bags each year.

State regulators have released new rules to enforce the changes, but groups on both sides of the issue say those rules are flawed.

New York Now

The state is facing a $6 billion budget deficit, mainly due to an increase in spending on Medicaid, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers are trying to come up with ideas on how to close it.

One idea gaining support among some Democrats in the State Legislature is reinstating a decades-old stock transfer tax changed during the Reagan era that its sponsor said could net the state billions of dollars a year.

Assemblyman Phil Steck said his bill to reinstate a one-quarter of 1 percent tax on transfers of stocks and bonds in the financial markets is nothing new.

Al Marlin, NYS School Boards Association

After two decades, the executive director  of the State School Boards Association, Tim Kremer, has decided it’s time to retire.

He shares his insights with WXXI’s Karen DeWitt, including how he came to believe that all of the emphasis on standardized testing in recent years, may have been a mistake.

Kremer's successor is Robert Schneider, who's been chief operating officer at NYSSBA since 2014.

The leader of the state Senate Republicans, who are in the minority in that chamber, said he’s not giving up on winning back seats, even though seven GOP members have announced they are leaving or seeking another office. 

Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan, who ruled as the majority leader for several years until Republicans lost several seats in 2018, said he knows his party faces a big challenge.

“Are we in a tough position? Of course,” Flanagan said. “But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to be in there fighting and swinging.” 

The declining New York State Senate Republican conference could get even smaller after three senators announced that they are not running for re-election in 2020 -- and more exits are expected in the coming weeks. 

For nearly all of the past century, with a few brief breaks, Republicans ruled the Senate. Then, in 2018, they lost a number of seats to give Democrats a decisive 40-seat majority out of the 63 districts.

The leader of the State Senate says she does not think there will be new broad-based taxes on the wealthy to close the state's multi-billion dollar budget shortfall. Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins' remarks come as a liberal leaning think tank is issuing a report that finds New York has the highest level of income inequality in the nation.

Law enforcement groups have pushed back against criminal justice changes that take effect in January, including the end to most forms of cash bail. But the advocates who fought for the changes say they are long overdue and will restore fairness to the system. 

Beginning in January, New York ends cash bail for all nonviolent crimes and will require that prosecutors tell people accused of crimes the details of all of the evidence they have against them within 15 days. 

Matt Ryan New York Now


New York state is facing the largest budget gap in several years. The $6 billion deficit is due largely to higher costs for Medicaid, the health care insurance program for low-income people.