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 lawmaker in the Iowa House who works in environmental protection in his day job has a new plan for paying for water quality, but his fellow Republicans have nixed the idea.  

Water quality is on the agenda at the statehouse this year because of a proposal from Governor Branstad to use some school funds to clean up Iowa waterways.

Representative John Wills of Spirit Lake works for the Soil and Water Conservation District in Dickinson County.  

John Clare/flickr

Conservationists in the Iowa House have advanced a bipartisan bill to limit hunting of potentially threatened Iowa wildlife.    

The bill would create a hunting season and bag limits for the commercial harvest of turtles, which has increased in Iowa as other states have cracked down.  

Ackworth Democrat Scott Ourth says there’s demand for several species of turtles in Tama, Johnson, and other counties.

Russell/IPR

Republicans in the Iowa House have amended a bill to legalize the production and distribution of marijuana in the state. 

In its more limited form, it cleared two Republican panels and is now eligible for debate in the full House. 

To improve its chances, the revised bill covers fewer conditions with fewer places to buy the cannabis.   Altoona Republican Zach Nunn praised those who came up with the compromise.

“To able to focus it in a way that it can be meaningful and face a reality of moving it forward in both chambers,” Nunn said.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Democrats in the Iowa House today banded together to try to take down Governor Branstad’s bill to use  some future school infrastructure funds for water quality instead.  

But Republicans prevailed and the bill remains eligible for debate.  

Years ago, county by county, voters agreed to pay an extra penny of sales tax for school infrastructure.  That tax is about to expire.   Governor Branstad wants to extend it and use some of the growth for water quality.    

Riverside Democrat Sally Stutsman says taking the money away from schools reneges on a promise to voters.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill advanced in the Iowa House today to determine how many untested rape kits may be languishing in storage in Iowa police departments. 

Nationwide, authorities are discovering thousands of untested kits, which include bodily fluids and other evidence collected after a victim reports an assault. 

With the help of a federal grant, the attorney general’s crime victim division will survey all law enforcement agencies, and then make strategic choices on how many kits should be tested now.

John Pemble/IPR

With little debate, a committee in the Republican-controlled Iowa house today nearly unanimously approved a new tax credit for gun owners, with backers saying it will increase gun safety in the state.  

Under the bill, the tax break would be granted for the purchase of a gun safe for personal use from a qualified retailer.   

Des Moines Democrat Rick Olson says the tax credit is not justified.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill advanced at the statehouse today to regulate new app-based transportation companies.    

Companies including Uber and Lyft use mobile apps for drivers to find fares and for passengers to arrange rides.   The companies currently operate in Des Moines, Ames, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport.

Mount Auburn Republican Dawn Pettengill says the bill spells out insurance requirements for the benefit of both drivers and passengers.

“I think they will feel safer than what we have now,” Pettengill says.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Some third graders who can’t read at grade level would get help this summer under a pilot project the Branstad administration announced today.  

The project will help prepare the state for next year, when struggling students will attend summer school, or be required to repeat third grade.    

It’s part of a compromise struck in 2012.     Some GOP lawmakers wanted to keep back all third graders  not reading at grade level.     The compromise instead requires summer school if a student wants to advance to fourth grade.  

John Pemble / IPR

As Iowa lawmakers dash to get bills out of committee in either the House or Senate, IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell has her eye on a few big questions this week: 

1. Can medical marijuana backers get a bill out of committee?

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The director of an embattled state agency took questions this week from statehouse Democrats over nearly one million dollars in improper payments of unemployment benefits.     

State Auditor Mary Mosiman reports that Iowa Workforce Development sent benefits to applicants who claimed to work for companies that didn’t exist.

In addition, legitimate recipients received 700,000 dollars in overpayments.  

Waterloo Democrat Bill Dotzler says some workers came forward and reported that there had been a mistake.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The presidents of Iowa’s three regents universities today made their annual trip to the state capitol, imploring lawmakers to increase funding for the universities by over $20 million. 

That far exceeds the governor’s recommendation.     

Governor Branstad’s budget includes $8 million to be shared among the three universities.  

President Steven Leath seeks more than $8 million for ISU alone.

He says state funding has fallen, while enrollment has soared.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The president of the Iowa Board of Regents says he’s disappointed that his choice among the field of Republican candidates for president has pulled out of the race.   

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie suspended his campaign after a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.  

President Bruce Rastetter says Christie was drowned out by the anti-Washington message of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

“Obviously I was disappointed,” Rastetter says.  “He's a terrific guy, would have made a great president.”

C. J. Sorg/flickr

A Senate panel today approved legislation they say is needed to minimize injury for high school athletes who suffer concussions at school-sponsored events.      

The bill would require a professional trainer to evaluate injured players at all varsity competitions in so-called collision sports, including football, soccer, and wrestling.

Backers say the bill would make it harder for coaches to put an injured player back in the game without proper rest or evaluation

Smart Sign/flickr

A Norwalk man who lost a family friend from carbon monoxide poisoning was at the capitol today, lobbying for legislation to mandate carbon monoxide alarms in Iowa dwellings. 

A bipartisan panel agreed to require residential buildings to install the alarms if they are already required to have smoke detectors.   

Dwayne Sand of Norwalk says other states are responding to the death of a 22-year-old woman who was killed by the colorless, odorless gas in Colorado six years ago.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Activists on both sides of the abortion debate crowded a committee room at the capitol Tuesday, weighing in on a bill critics call extreme and unprecedented.  

Backers of the bill say it’s needed to prevent the sale or donation of fetal tissue.

An anti-abortion group last year released videos it said depicted Planned Parenthood of trying to sell fetal body parts.    Federal law bans the sale of fetal remains, but the abortion provider was cleared of wrongdoing. 

But Representative Sandy Salmon (Rep. Janesville) says under Iowa law fetal tissue could still be sold.  

Russell/IPR

A Republican lawmaker will sponsor legislation to legalize the production and distribution of medical marijuana in the state.   At a statehouse news conference, a group known as Iowans for Medical Cannabis released a survey showing wide support for the bill.    

After a long political struggle in 2014, the Iowa legislature approved a bill allowing families to possess cannabis to treat epileptic children.  

Jamelah E. / Flickr

The Iowa legislature has considered legalizing commercial fireworks for years, though the proposal has never made it to the governor’s desk. This year, the debate is revived. 

On this legislative day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer hosts a discussion on Iowa's fireworks laws, along with Iowa Public Radio correspondent Joyce Russell. They also discuss a new proposal to allow teenagers to vote in a primary if they will be 18-years-old by Election Day. University of Northern Iowa political analyst Chris Larimer says this bill could increase the youth vote in Iowa.

John Pemble / IPR

With the Iowa caucuses over and the general election months away, political watchers in Iowa turn their gaze to the capitol. The legislature is taking on many of the same characteristics of previous sessions. IPR’s Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell laid out the following observations:

1. The Governor’s Agenda is modest and defining issues this session are hard to identify.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A Republican-dominated panel at the statehouse this week approved another gun rights bill, part of a package of legislation backed by the Iowa Firearms Coalition.  

A bill to make weapons permits confidential will now be considered by the full House Judiciary Committee.  

Missouri Valley Republican Matt Windschitl, a leading gun rights advocate in the legislature, says it’s a matter of privacy for gunowners.

Save Medicaid Action

Democrats in the Iowa Senate today ratcheted up their challenge to Governor Branstad’s plan to privatize Medicaid, the state’s health care program for the low-income and disabled.  

They introduced a bill to repeal the initiative, but Republicans are standing by the Governor’s proposal.  

Democrats say privatizing Medicaid will disrupt long-standing relations between patients and providers and compromise patient care.   Their bill would cancel the contracts with three for-profit, out of state companies chosen to manage the program.     

Wendy/flickr

Republicans in the Iowa House are backing a special kind of prescription painkiller they say will help cut down on opioid abuse.   

GOP lawmakers have introduced a bill to encourage the use of tamper-proof pills for doctors to prescribe for patients likely to abuse. 

Such patients will sometimes alter the pain pills for recreational use.   

Keota Republican Jared Klein says specially formulated painkillers will discourage that.

Photo by John Pemble

Governor Branstad’s proposal to pay for millions of dollars in water quality improvements now has some competition in the Iowa House and it’s coming from the governor’s fellow Republicans. 

Branstad wants to extend a penny sales tax for schools that is set to expire. 

The tax currently goes into a special fund for school infrastructure.  

Under Branstad’s plan, some of the growth in the fund would be used to clean up Iowa’s waterways.  

House Education Committee Chair, Republican Ron Jorgensen, says he needs more information on the governor’s proposal.

Joyce Russell, Sarah Boden, Amy Mayer/IPR

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucuses for the Republican presidential nomination, while the Democratic race between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was considered neck-and-neck early this morning.

In a speech at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, Cruz thanked Iowa Republicans while also referencing scripture, Reagan Democrats, and what he calls “courageous conservatives”.

S Pakhrin / Flickr

In 1948, two small lines in a congressional bill meant quite a big deal for Iowa’s sole Native American tribe. In an unfunded mandate from the federal government, the Act of 1948 designated Iowa would take over judicial jurisdiction of the Meskwaki settlement from the federal government.

John Pemble/IPR

At the statehouse this week, Democrats and Republicans will try to reach accord on K-12 school funding for the school year that starts in the fall.  

The legislature is already late in approving the aid, which by law should have been passed in the last legislation session.

Once again this year, Democrats seek a larger increase for schools than Republicans.      

Democratic Senator Majority Leader Mike Gronstal recalls last year the two parties fought for weeks on a bipartisan compromise, only to have it vetoed by the governor.

Stephen Chin/flickr

Another gun rights bill got its first airing at the statehouse today, with majority Republicans on a three-member panel signing on, and the lone Democrat objecting.  

The bill would allow loaded firearms on snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles on both public and private property.     Currently, a gun must be unloaded and in a case.  

Richard Rogers with the Iowa Firearms Coalition says there are two problems with the current law.

Staff Sergeant Chad D. Nelson, Iowa National Guard

Hundreds of positions in the Iowa National Guard have opened to women for the first time in the Guard’s history, and women have already begun to enlist in combat roles.   

That’s according to Adjutant General of the Iowa National Guard, Major General Timothy Orr, who delivered his annual Condition of the Guard address to a joint session of the Iowa House and Senate.

Orr says last month’s announcement from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter opening up combat roles to women is having an effect in Iowa.

John Pemble/IPR

The head of education spending in the Iowa Senate has dim hopes for increased funding for the state universities next year, and he predicts the Regents will not be able to freeze tuition.    

Governor Branstad’s budget includes 8 million new dollars for the universities, with the Board of Regents deciding how to divide it up among the three schools.    

But Arlington Democrat Brian Schoenjahn says that should be the legislature’s job.

Monica Reyes, founder, Dream Iowa

A Latino advocacy group is working hard to get voters out to their precinct caucuses on February 1st.  

They have ambitious goals for how many Latinos will participate.  An immigration expert says their targets are realistic.  

Close to a hundred Latinos gathered on a recent Sunday at Grandview University in Des Moines.   Part of the agenda was to learn how the Iowa caucuses work.    

Christian Ucles walks them through a typical Democratic caucus, where supporters of a certain candidate gather together in a group in a corner of the room.     

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Nineteen states have adopted policies that leave questions about criminal history off a first round job application. Legislation to “ban the box” is now being considered in Iowa, with civil rights groups for the move, and some business leaders speaking out against it. During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Justin R. McCarthy, a welder with a felony conviction on his record, about finding work after being released from federal prison.

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