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.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Rank and file lawmakers adjourned for the week and went home today, leaving behind key negotiators to work out a tax deal so the 2018 legislative session can come to a close. 

There is broad agreement among Republicans in the House, the Senate, and the governor’s office that income tax cuts are needed so Iowans can take full advantage of federal tax cuts.   Each of their plans provide additional tax relief beyond that, while the Senate plan cuts taxes most aggressively of the three.

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Iowa’s court system could soon be filling vacant judge positions across the state that have been causing delays in court proceedings, if a proposed House GOP budget becomes law.  

To balance the budget for the fiscal year that ends in June, the courts eliminated 67 positions statewide and held open judicial vacancies for an average of one year.

Under a House GOP Judicial Branch budget that advanced this week, the court system would get a $4.3 million increase in its appropriation next year.    

Joyce Russell/IPR

There were emotional remembrances from the floor of the Iowa House and Senate Tuesday as gay and lesbian lawmakers honored Iowa civil rights activist Donna Red Wing, who died Monday at the age of 67.   

Red Wing led the advocacy organization One Iowa from 2012 to 2016, and was nationally recognized for her work on behalf of the LGBT community.      

Rep. Liz Bennett (D-Cedar Rapids) recalled her own history dealing with discrimination from a young age because of her sexual orientation.

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Bare bones budgets keeping state agency funding at the levels of three years ago won preliminary approval at the statehouse today, as work began in earnest on next year’s overall state budget. 

Lawmakers from both parties expressed concern about short-staffing in public safety jobs.  

On a party-line vote, the GOP-dominated House Appropriations Committee approved what they’re calling status quo funding for the justice system, which covers highway patrol, prisons, and the state crime lab.   

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Republicans and Democrats sparred today over GOP plans to cut income and other taxes before lawmakers wrap up their 2018 legislative session.  

Separate bills in the House and Senate would cut taxes by as much as $2 billion over five years.  

Both chambers would also increase sales taxes to help cover the cost of the income tax cuts.  

Sen. Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque) is ranking Democrat on the Senate Ways and Means Committee.   Speaking on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River, she predicted low to middle income taxpayers would barely come out ahead.

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Republicans who control the Iowa House unveiled a more than $1 billion tax cut bill. And, Republicans who control the Senate have their own new $2 billion tax plan. Time is ticking on the Iowa legislative session because lawmakers’ expense accounts expire on Tuesday. IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell breaks it down. 

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State lawmakers return to the capitol today, starting another week of negotiations within the Republican party over how much to cut state income taxes.   

The GOP-controlled House and Senate last week unveiled updated and competing tax plans.   

House members call  their tax cut bill “significant but responsible,” while the Senate’s is, in  their words “bold but prudent.”

Under the House bill, the average individual income tax cut would reach nearly 9 percent.   The bill would cost $1.3 billion over five years.  

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The Iowa legislature honored accomplished native daughter and record-breaking astronaut Peggy Whitson with a joint House and Senate Resolution today.   

Whitson is from Mount Ayr and grew up on a farm near Beaconsfield.  

When she returned from her most recent mission last September, Whitson had spent over 289 days in orbit, and had cumulatively spent over 665 days during her three missions aboard the International Space Station, more time living and working in space than any other American or any woman worldwide.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Gov. Reynolds’ nominee for a position on the Iowa Board of Medicine went down to defeat in a  confirmation vote in  the Iowa Senate today.  

Nevada resident Katherine Asjes is the wife of a NATO flight officer with a background in public relations who has lived all over the world, but settled in Iowa in 2005.     

The Senate voted 30 to 18 for confirmation, short of the two-thirds majority required.

Senate Democrats objected to a post on a Catholic blog in which Asjes agreed with negative views about the LGBT community.    

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On a strict party-line vote, Republicans in the Iowa House today approved a proposed constitutional amendment to clarify the line of succession when an Iowa lieutenant governor assumes the governorship.     

Republicans say that will correct what some saw as an error over the appointment of acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg last year. 

When Gov. Reynolds assumed the governorship last year, according to an opinion from Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, she was not able to formally appoint Adam Gregg to the second-in-command position.    

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A leading Iowa maker of agricultural equipment today warned of the impact on Iowa’s manufacturing sector from a trade dispute between the U.S. and China.      

On March 23, the United States put a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum. In response, China placed retaliatory tariffs of 15-25 percent on 128 American products, including pork.

Additional threatened tariffs from both sides are now in play. 

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Gov. Reynolds' $1.7 billion tax cut bill was the subject of a public hearing at the statehouse last night, where dozens of Iowans weighed in for and against.  

The bill which is under consideration in the House cuts personal income taxes by up to 23 percent as well as small business taxes.    It would cost the state treasury $300 million a year starting next year.

One supporter, Amy Boozell, is a mother of five who works with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Story County.    She says working people deserve a break on their taxes.

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The Head of the Iowa Department of Human Services is defending the state’s privatized Medicaid system, after a scathing report last week by the state ombudsman.  

The report said complaints from patients and providers jumped by 157% last year, making Medicaid one of the top targets of complaints from citizens reporting difficulties with the government.

Since April of 2016, for-profit companies have managed the program for 640,000 Iowans who are poor or disabled.

We’re headed into the last few weeks of the legislative session, and as usual for a Monday, IPR’s Clay Masters and Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell chatted about the legislature on Morning Edition.

Gov. Reynolds won’t face a primary challenge, but the possibility of a challenge hasn’t seemed to affect her work.  Russell says the governor had a limited legislative agenda this year, primarily consisting of the “Future Ready” workforce development legislation, which she has already signed. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate will return to the negotiating table at the capitol Monday, hoping to find agreement within their party on tax cuts that will clear the way for adjournment of this year’s legislative session. 

A Senate bill cuts taxes more than the governor and the Republican-controlled House are recommending.   Work on the more than $7 billion state budget can’t get underway in earnest until the tax issues are resolved.  

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver thinks a resolution on taxes and targets for the budget can be completed this week.

John Pemble/IPR

A bill that aims to correct some of the problems in Iowa’s privatized Medicaid system advanced in the Republican-controlled Iowa House this week.  

The bill comes as complaints continue from patients not getting services and providers not getting paid. 

A House committee approved HF2483 on Tuesday, one day after the state ombudsman released a scathing report on the privatized program, including services for the elderly and disabled.

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College students at Iowa’s Regents universities should plan to spend a little more for supplies under a bill that advanced in the Iowa House today.  

The bill would eliminate the sales tax exemption students currently enjoy at university-owned campus bookstores. 

Private industry complains the tax break is unfair competition.  

The owner of Iowa Book, a private store near campus, wrote a letter to lawmakers urging them to change the law.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

After hours of debate, and on a mostly party-line vote, Republicans in the Iowa House Tuesday approved legislation they say will ensure that local governments in Iowa cooperate with federal immigration authorities.  

GOP lawmakers told stories of serious crimes committed in other states where they say immigrants in the country illegally are “caught and released.”      

Under the bill, no city or county in Iowa may adopt a policy that discourages enforcement of federal  immigration laws or keeps police from inquiring about the immigration status of someone in detention.   

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Iowans who are struggling to afford health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s individual marketplace gathered around Gov. Kim Reynolds today as she signed legislation allowing a lower-cost, unregulated product to take the place of traditional insurance. 

Under the bill, the plans will not be required to cover pre-existing conditions or other mandates of Obamacare.  

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We’re heading into the last few weeks of the legislative session, and there are still a few big things to be done before lawmakers go home, as we hear in a discussion between IPR's Joyce Russell and Michael Leland on Morning Edition.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Families of loved ones who have suffered and died from mental illness gathered in the statehouse rotunda today to see Governor Reynolds sign two mental health bills into law.     

One comprehensive bill creates a new system of care facilities statewide for those in crisis. 

“We must identify the gaps in our system and this bill does that,” Reynolds says.

Under the bill, the state’s regional mental health districts will be required to offer new access centers for short-term crisis care. Community teams will offer individual treatment in the home and community.  

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Psychiatrists would have clearer guidelines for reporting potentially dangerous patients to police, under a comprehensive mental health bill the governor will sign tomorrow. 

The bill tries to balance the desires of law enforcement with confidentiality concerns and the professional judgment of mental health professionals.    

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Iowa Public Radio’s Bob Dorr was honored in the Iowa legislature today for his long career in music and broadcasting in Iowa.

The Iowa House and Senate passed resolutions praising Dorr as an Iowa icon, and thanking him for his dedication to the cultural landscape and history of the state.

Dorr’s broadcasting career spans 45 years.  His music shows began airing from Cedar Falls public radio station KUNI, and expanded when it became part of Iowa Public Radio, where his show still air.

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Gov. Reynolds Monday clarified that more than one employee came forward with allegations of sexual harassment before she fired the director of a state housing agency on Saturday.  

Reynolds said credible allegations against Iowa Finance Authority Director David Jamison were enough to dismiss him without further investigation.   

Speaking at her weekly news conference, Reynolds described the quick action that was taken after agency employees reported the harassment to Reynolds’ chief of staff Friday night.   

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Gov. Kim Reynolds has bill on her desk that approves mid-year cuts of more than $35 million to the state’s $7.2 billion budget. IPR’s Joyce Russell previews the week ahead at the legislature including what to expect from what the legislature has handed the governor.

Iowa General Assembly Website

Advocates for public schools tried to stop a bill in the Iowa House today that may expand for-profit online education in the state.  

The bill lifts the cap on the number of school districts that can open-enroll students from all over the state, and then turn over the state per-pupil funding to for-profit companies for full-time online instruction.  

Currently, two Iowa school districts, CAM in southwest Iowa and Clayton Ridge in northeast Iowa, contract with for-profit companies for full-time online classes.      

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An effort to repeal Iowa’s nearly 40-year old bottle deposit law this year has apparently come to an end after action in the Iowa Senate.    

A bill backed by the Iowa Grocery Industry Association and the Iowa Beverage Association to replace the bottle law with a statewide recycling program did not clear a three-member panel.

The bill’s manager, Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull), announced an alternative effort to modernize the law instead.  

“We are not repealing the bottle bill,” Feenstra said.     

Joyce Russell/IPR

A school safety bill requiring all districts to be prepared for active shooters and other emergencies is making its way through the Iowa legislature, as lawmakers grapple with the tragedy of school shootings across the country.  

An eastern Iowa lawmaker was overcome with emotion during debate in the Iowa House. 

Nick Glenn / Flickr

bill making its way through the Iowa legislature directs local governments and police departments to comply with federal immigration authorities or risk losing state funding.

On this edition of River to River, legislative day co-hosts Ben Kieffer and Joyce Russell talk with lawmakers, law enforcement, an immigration advocate, and the mayor of Iowa City about their views on the proposal and how it may impact Iowa communities.

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Vladimir Kulikov / Wikimedia Commons

The Iowa House today approved cuts to the Regents universities that go beyond what the chamber had proposed earlier this year to address a state revenue shortfall in the fiscal year that ends June 30th.   To reach agreement with the Iowa Senate, the House voted to cut Regents funding by nearly $11 million, split between the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.   The universities will have to absorb that in the three months left in the fiscal year.  Democrats resisted but were unable to stop the cuts from being approved.  Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, questioned Pat Grassley, R-Cedar Fa

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