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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Photo by John Pemble

 

The social activist group Nuns on the Bus got a boost today for their 36 city tour to encourage voter registration.  They are launching the trip from Des Moines accompanied by Vice-President Joe Biden.  Speaking from the terrace of the State Capitol, Biden calls for the raising of the minimum wage.  “The middle class is in real trouble.  It was devastated by this recession.  It was already losing ground the previous ten years.” says Biden.

 

Clay Masters / IPR

Former Secretary of State and one-time Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton returned to Iowa Sunday for the first time since her 3rd place finish in the Iowa Caucuses in 2008.   She was the featured speaker at retiring  Democratic Senator Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry.  Even Harkin admitted she stole the show. 

Senator Harkin took the stage before some ten thousand activists and said this is a hell of a crowd:

“And to think you all came here just to see me,” Harkin joked with the crowd.  “Who am I kidding? You've had some steak now it’s time for some sizzle.”

Democrats in the Iowa Senate failed to stop a new rule at the Iowa Department of Administrative Services that   they say will  chip away at Iowa’s merit system of employment.    The rule would let state agencies lay off some permanent employees ahead of temporary workers in the event of a reduction in force.   

The new rule survived a challenge before the legislature’s administrative rules review committee.   DAS Human Resource Officer Michell Minnehan said sometimes it makes sense to keep temporary workers on.

Iowa’s Crime Victim Assistance Program was under scrutiny before a Republican-dominated committee at the statehouse.     The committee’s chairman says he got his questions answered about whether money was being misspent.   

The Iowa Supreme Court  ruled that the Iowa bar exam will remain a requirement to practice law in the state.    The Iowa State Bar Association had sought to  waive the exam for graduates of Iowa law schools.

A group known as Ready for Hillary is offering an all-expense paid trip to Iowa and the 37th annual Tom Harkin Steak Fry later this month.    Bill and Hillary Clinton will be the featured guests, and Hillary Clinton’s backers  want a big turnout.      

The head of  Iowa Workforce Development Teresa Wahlert  took questions for nearly two hours from the Iowa Senate Oversight Committee.   One senator calls the agency dysfunctional, but Wahlert defends her leadership style.  

The Iowa Senate Oversight Committee questioned current and former judges  who rule on unemployment benefits for laid-off state workers.    Senators are  looking into allegations that management at Iowa Workforce Development favors  employers over employees in contested cases.   

The head of a major environmental organization will lead  a new initiative to get farmers to comply with water quality standards.     But other  environmentalists are skeptical the new standards will work as long as they remain voluntary.    

State officials who oversee unemployment benefits for laid-off workers  say they are beefing up their fraud investigations, even as unemployment claims have fallen.   Half the investigative staff quit when they took advantage of an early retirement offer.  

A Polk County judge today ruled in favor of the Iowa Board of Medicine on so-called telemed abortions, which involve administering medical abortions without a doctor present.   The judge upheld the Board’s ban on the procedure.

The University of Northern Iowa is going to bankruptcy  court to try to get money back from the now defunct Cedar Falls-based investment fund  Peregrine Financial  group.   The firm’s CEO Russell Wasendorf, Sr. is serving a 50-year prison term for defrauding investors of more than 200 million dollars. 

Iowa’s major party candidates for governor  traded barbs over Democrat Jack Hatch’s career as a property developer in Des Moines.   

Iowa’s two major party candidates for governor staked out sharply different priorities  in a debate Thursday at the Iowa State Fair.   Democrat Jack Hatch had his first chance  to go before a statewide audience with incumbent Governor Terry  Branstad. And Branstad’s long record in office  gave his challenger plenty to take potshots at.     

Officials with the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management agency  released to the general public the routes rail lines take to haul crude oil through the state from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota.    The rail lines are complying with a new federal mandate to report shipments of more than a million gallons.     

The United States Department of Transportation  has ordered the nation’s rail lines to let states know how much crude oil is coming through from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota.  The  Bakken crude is especially  flammable and a number of derailments have resulted in disastrous fires.   Iowa officials are  in dispute with the rail lines about whether to release  the information to the general  public.  

A much-maligned beef product that’s sometimes added to  hamburger is making a comeback after a sharp decline  two years ago.    Processors cut back  on the production of  what they call finely textured beef when a nasty  nickname “pink slime” caught on in the media.   Now  demand for the product is on the rise because of high beef prices.   

Joyce Russell / IPR

After pulling ahead late in a crowded field, State Senator Joni Ernst won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate  to replace retiring Democrat Tom Harkin.    

Iowa’s only nuclear power plant, the Duane Arnold Energy Center,  is observing its fortieth year in operation with the release of a report showing its economic impact in  the state.   Governor Branstad joined company officials for a celebration at the plant outside Palo.  

John Pemble / IPR

The Iowa Legislature adjourned last week. Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters checks in with Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell to discuss what got done this legislative year. 

A compromise budget bill  means the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo will not reopen next year.    Democrats say the  home will remain closed for the time being, regardless of the outcome of their lawsuit against the governor.  

The Branstad administration has spent close to half a million dollars on an initiative  designed to convince more companies to locate here rather than in another state.   Four industrial sites have been designated as project ready, a trend officials say is catching on around the country.  

John Pemble / IPR

The predictions are out there that Iowa's legislative session will wrap up early this week. On Mondays we check in with IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell to make sense of everything going on up at the capitol.

John Pemble/IPR

A bill to allow Iowa families to travel to other states and bring back a form of medical marijuana advanced   in the Iowa Senate.   Mothers of epileptic kids pushed  hard for the legislation, saying  cannabis oil can help relieve  their children’s seizures.

    

Democrats in the Iowa Senate  got the ball rolling on a bill that’s a dream come true for  environmentalists  and natural resource advocates.   The bill raises the state  sales tax for a natural resources trust fund that voters approved by constitutional amendment two years ago.  Backers added a tax cut​  to the bill to soften the blow.    

The Iowa legislature’s oversight committee questioned top administrators at the Iowa Department of Administrative Services over payments made to laid-off state workers for keeping their settlements with the state confidential.   But lawmakers still don't know where the authorization for the so-called hush money came from.

John Pemble / IPR

Calls for further hearings regarding secret settlements, funding for Iowa's three Regent universities and an uncertain future for anti-bullying legislation.

Statehouse correspondent Joyce Russell speaks with IPR’s Morning Edition Host Clay Masters. 

Durrie Bouscaren / Iowa Public Radio

In a procedural vote, the Iowa House turned down a million dollar appropriation to match private donations to Iowa’s food banks.   The legislature passed a similar measure last year, but Governor Branstad vetoed it.   One House Democrat spoke with unusual authority.   Representative Ako Abdul-Samaad  of Des Moines runs a soup kitchen as part of the Creative Visions social service agency he heads.  Here are some of his remarks.

In the Iowa House, the wheels fell off an agreement to freeze tuition for another year at Iowa’s Regents Universities, but only if all three schools get  a 4% increase in state funds.   Republicans have agreed to mandate the  freeze,  but not all the schools will get their promised raise.   

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

The embattled head of the Iowa Department of Administrative Services was fired today by Governor Branstad, after new evidence surfaced about confidential payments to  laid-off state workers.  

The former employees reached  settlements with the state through mediation. Director Mike Carroll told a legislative committee and the governor that his agency did not approve extra payments to workers who agreed to keep their settlements confidential.  

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