Joyce Russell

Correspondent

Joyce Russell is a correspondent based at the Iowa Statehouse. Joyce has been covering the Iowa Statehouse since shortly after joining the news staff at WOI Radio in 1988. Her earlier broadcasting experience included news reporting at commercial stations in Oklahoma City and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Joyce’s reports can be heard on National Public Radio and American Public Media programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Marketplace.  She covered the last six Iowa caucus campaigns and interviewed numerous candidates for president, including some who went on to attain the highest office in the land.   

Joyce  has a bachelor’s degree in English from Saint Louis University and  a master’s degree in English from the University of Oklahoma.   

Joyce’s favorite public radio program is Fresh Air.

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A Republican-sponsored water quality bill passed by a wide margin in a House committee today in spite of reservations from Democrats.  

The bill takes existing tax revenue, and commits it to cities trying to get pollutants out of their drinking water.  

Iowans who live in cities pay a tax on metered water.  The bill would direct the tax to a special fund for water treatment upgrades.   

But Democrats say farm chemicals and other contaminants will still be in Iowa waterways.  

File Photo, House Democratic Caucus

With the privatization of Iowa’s health care program for the poor and disabled set to go into effect tomorrow, state lawmakers Wednesday grilled company representatives and Medicaid managers about the change.    

There was emotional debate in the House about a young cancer patient’s treatment being delayed.        

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Johnston father of three, Nathan Gibson, would like to take his daughters to fire handguns at a shooting range, but under state law they can't handle pistols until the age of fourteen.

On this legislative day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Gibson and one of Gibson's daughters about their effort to eliminate the handgun use age limit. 

Jo Naylor

Governor Branstad had harsh words today for Iowa’s public schools who want a penny sales tax extended to benefit school infrastructure projects.

The one-cent sales tax is set to expire in 2029.   Schools use the money to back up bonding for everything from building repairs to technology upgrades.  

The governor wants to extend the tax, but he wants some of the revenue diverted to water quality.

At his weekly news conference, Branstad lashed out against schools for opposing his plan.  

Iowa Gunowners

There’s division in the ranks of gun rights groups in Iowa over pro-gun bills which have gained final passage in the Iowa legislature.

A group that calls itself Iowa’s Only No Compromise Gun Lobby is criticizing the compromise bills, and blaming the NRA and the Iowa Firearms Coalition for their role in the negotiations.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

The organization that represents some 63,000 Iowans with Alzheimer’s disease had its annual lobby day at the capitol today. 

Officials with the Alzheimer's Association say they want more accountability for health care workers providing dementia care.    

Currently, health care workers in nursing homes and other facilities must have a certain number of hours of dementia training.  

Carol Sipfle, executive director of the Alzheimer's Association Iowa Chapter, wants workers to show their competence as well.

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More than a year later than required by state law, negotiators in the Iowa House and Senate have agreed to a two-point-two-five percent increase in basic state aid for K-12 schools next year.  

Democrats say that’s the “best they can do” with a divided legislature.  The compromise is about 80 million dollars less than the 4 percent increase Democrats approved, but Republicans say schools will receive 87 percent of all new state revenue next year.   

Tom Narak with the School Administrators of Iowa calls the compromise obviously inadequate.

Photo Courtesy of Rita Dvorak

In 2015, Iowa had a record number of beach closures due to blue green algae blooms. That, in addition to a lawsuit filed against three northwestern Iowa counties, is bringing increased attention to water quality in the state.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Iowa poultry producers are on the alert for a possible reoccurrence of the deadly avian flu which decimated flocks last year.  

The Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is taking steps to more efficiently euthanize birds if the disease strikes again.    

The agency helped coordinate the statewide response last year.   That included hauling water to affected areas to create the foam to kill birds, and coordinating hazardous materials teams for cleanup. 

John Pemble / IPR

 

There are more deadlines this week that will force bills forward or fall flat. Morning Edition Host Clay Masters talked with IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell and has these takeaways.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A Marion woman gave tearful testimony before a statehouse committee, imploring them to protect mental health services under Medicaid privatization. 

The woman’s friend was killed this week, allegedly by her son who has been described as severely mentally ill. 

Thirty-year old Michael Dieckman was being held on two counts of murder in the deaths of his mother, 63 year old Jacqueline Dieckman and his 91 year old grandmother, whose bodies were found on Wednesday in the home they shared in Council Bluffs. 

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The popularity of online shopping may be behind slower growth in Iowa sales tax collections in recent months.  

That’s according to one member of the Revenue Estimating Conference which reports lackluster growth in the Iowa economy.

The REC met Wednesday and predicted only a slight increase in tax revenues since their last assessment in December.  

Department of Management Director Dave Roederer says they are most concerned about sales tax collections.

Jason Parrott/Tri States Public Radio

Oversight committees in the Iowa House and Senate are working on bills to ensure that alleged abuse at a private boarding school in southeast Iowa never happens again.   

Midwest Academy was shut down after a raid by local, state and federal officials.     

At a statehouse hearing, lawmakers grilled representatives of two state agencies about how they might have prevented the alleged abuse.  

John Pemble/IPR

A compromise tax policy bill passed the Iowa House and Senate Tuesday and will now go to Governor Branstad for his consideration.    

The bill matches up the Iowa tax code with federal law at a cost of nearly $100 million to the state treasury.  

Backers say farmers and small businesses have enjoyed a tax break on major purchases in the past.  

They bought machinery expecting that this year, so there was an outcry when Democrats and the Governor wanted to change course.   

Michael Leland / IPR

More bills have reached deadlines for continuing in the Iowa legislature. IPR’s Morning Edition Host Clay Masters got the latest from Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell on what to expect going into the week of March 14 at the statehouse.

Joyce Russell/IPR

African-American activists cheered as Governor Branstad today signed into law one of the legislative priorities of the NAACP.    

The bill will keep court records confidential in most juvenile cases.  

The bill came out of the Governor’s Working Group on Justice Policy Reform.

Activists argue that black juvenile offenders are most affected because of their disproportionate  numbers in the courts.   

Iowa Senate Video Archive

On a mostly party-line vote, the Iowa Senate has approved a bill to add transgender individuals to those protected by Iowa’s hate crimes statute. 

The vote on Tuesday came after the killing last week of a teenager in Burlington.

Sixteen-year-old Kedarie Johnson was shot to death last Wednesday.   The student’s body was later discovered in an alley.

State Senator Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines) says Johnson was transitioning from female to male.

Todd Lappin/flickr

A shortage of mental health physicians could be alleviated under a program Governor Branstad announced today.

Iowa ranks 41st in the nation in the number of practicing psychiatrists.   So the state will spend $4 million for new psychiatric residency programs at three Des Moines medical centers, Broadlawns, UnityPoint Health, and Mercy Hospital.  

Branstad says Iowa educates a lot of doctors at U of I and at Des Moines University.

“But if they go and do their residency out of state, they tend to get job offers there and they don’t come back," Branstad said.     

Governor Branstad today praised the political instincts of former first lady Nancy Reagan who died this weekend at the age of 94.    

Branstad recalled the 1980 Iowa caucus campaign when Ronald Reagan lost to George H.W. Bush.    Branstad says the campaign chairman was fired after ignoring Branstad’s advice, and Nancy Reagan played a role in that.

“She had a good political antenna,” Branstad said.  “She wasn't afraid to whisper in the president’s ear if there were changes that should be made or she felt were not being loyal to the president.”

John Pemble / IPR

Iowa Public Radio’s Clay Masters spoke with Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell. Here’s what she told him:

1. Kids likely won’t be allowed to handle guns. Iowa got a lot of national attention for a bill in the Iowa House that would allow children, 14 and younger, to handle a gun under parental supervision. “I would say there’s virtually no way this would pass the senate,” IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell said. The gun bill that could pass both chambers is one to legalize gun suppressors.

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Iowa school districts will not be required to offer at least one high school computer science class under a bill that was scaled back in the Iowa House this week. 

The bill instead creates an advisory committee to make recommendations in time for the 2018-2019 school year. 

The committee will address whether schools should include a unit on coding for seventh and eighth graders.  

They’ll also consider whether students should be able to take a computer class to meet a school’s math requirement, and how many new teachers would be required.    

Photo by Sack Pephirom

Thousands of crows are befouling pathways and windows at the Iowa Capitol, and officials who oversee the capitol grounds have called in outside help.    

Janet Phipps at the Iowa Department of Administrative Services says the problem is not new, but it is worse this year than in past years.

Phipps says the USDA Wildlife Service has helped downtown Des Moines get rid of its black birds, and they’ve roosted at the capitol instead.

“USDA assists in that so we are in touch with USDA about chasing them somewhere else,” Phipps said.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

For the first time in Iowa history, a Republican lawmaker introduced a medical marijuana bill in the statehouse. Peter Cownie, a Republican from Des Moines, introduced House Study Bill 607, now House File 2384, which would allow for the manufacture and distribution of cannabis oil in Iowa. The bill originally had ten conditions but the version that passed the Commerce Committee included only three--epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and terminal cancer.

Geoffrey Fairchild/flickr

A gun rights bill that passed the Iowa House is running into opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate.   

Democrats want gunowners to demonstrate proficiency before acquiring or renewing a permit to carry a concealed weapon.   

By a wide margin, the House last month approved a bill that makes it easier for some gunowners to renew their permits, and protects the confidentiality of permit holders.  

State Center Democrat Steve Sodders says for Democrats to sign on to that, they’ll insist on some basic training with a gun.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

The Iowa Senate has voted unanimously to punish violations of the state’s competitive bidding laws, after complaints over how for-profit companies won the contracts for privatizing the state’s Medicaid program. Interested parties reportedly communicated with state employees while their bids were under consideration, what should have been a blackout period to maintain objectivity.    Des Moines Democrat Janet Peterson says there should be consequences when people don’t follow the blackout rule.

Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad Monday praised the timing of a high-profile endorsement for leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, but he didn’t say whether or not he agreed with the endorsement itself.   

New Jersey Governor and former candidate Chris Christie on Friday threw his support behind Trump.   

Governor Branstad says that shifted media attention away from Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

“I think it was a brilliant move and it obviously changed the coverage, so it was strategically a good move,” Branstad says.     

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Lifetime handicapped parking permits would become a thing of the past if a bill in the Iowa Senate becomes law.

Lawmakers say some drivers may be acquiring permits from other family members, and using them to take up parking spaces reserved for drivers with real disabilities. 

Statehouse lobbyist Brian Johnson has a permanent disability.  

He believes some drivers are using permits passed down to them from parents or grandparents.

Russell/IPR

After a vigorous debate, a state board today voted not to try to recover nearly half-a-million dollars in unemployment benefits that mistakenly went out to workers two years ago because of a technical malfunction at Iowa Workforce Development  

The former director of the state agency that distributes unemployment benefits came under harsh criticism today at a meeting of the board of directors for IWD.

Valdosta-Lowndes MPO/flickr

Vehicles overtaking bicyclists on roadways without bike lanes would have to give the cyclists plenty of room under a bill that passed the Iowa Senate today.    

Under the bill, the car or truck would have to get completely over in the adjoining lane to pass, just as they do while passing any other vehicle. 

Lawmakers told stories of fatal or near-fatal accidents on county roadways. 

Waterloo Democrat Bill Dotzler described harrowing experiences on a bicycle in rural Butler County.

John Pemble/IPR

After months of discussion, out of state for-profit companies now have the go-ahead to take over Iowa’s Medicaid program for the poor and disabled on April 1st.  

The Branstad administration Tuesday received word of approval from the federal government though the date was once again delayed.  

In December, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services delayed implementation from January 1st to March 1st, stating that key requirements on 16 action items were not met, including adequate provider networks to serve Iowa’s more than 500,000  Medicaid patients. 

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