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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John Pemble

For the first time in 20 years, Republicans held majorities in the Iowa House, Iowa Senate, with a Republican in the governor’s office.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer hosts a discussion on what was accomplished this legislative session with panelists: Kathie Obradovich of the Des Moines Register, James Lynch of The Gazette, Barbara Rodriguez of the AP, and Iowa Public Radio statehouse correspondent, Joyce Russell.

Joyce Russell/IPR

In a heated exchange with reporters, Governor Branstad today defended GOP lawmakers for approving $150,000 in transition expenses for Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds as she assumes the governorship.      

Democrats called the appropriation extravagant in a year when budgets are being cut across state government.    

But Branstad compared the fund to past transition appropriations.

“The same Democrats when they controlled everything, gave $170,000 for [Gov. Chet] Culver's transition,” Branstad said.

His voice rising higher, Branstad implied that sexism was involved.

John Pemble / IPR

The Iowa legislature adjourned for the 2017 legislative session on Saturday, after pulling an all-nighter on Friday. Iowa Public Radio’s Clay Masters spoke with IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell.

John Pemble/IPR

After working through Friday night, the Iowa legislature wrapped up its 2017 legislative session, what some are calling historic for the sheer number of Republican initiatives approved.       

The majority party left a few major priorities undone with promises to take them up next year.  

With Republicans in charge of both chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in nearly 20 years, the way was cleared for major initiatives to take flight.   

Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

A Republican proposal to get rid of Iowa’s Art in State Buildings program sparked a contentious debate in the Iowa Senate Thursday.  

The program sets aside a small percentage of the cost of state building projects to commission onsite paintings and sculpture.  

GOP lawmakers say they’ve heard a lot of criticism about the artworks on campuses, at rest stops, and around the capitol complex.  

Since the program began in 1979, art work has been included in some 160 state buildings

Iowa General Assembly

Two of Governor Branstad’s re-appointments to the Iowa Board of Medicine failed to get the votes needed for confirmation in the Iowa Senate last night, going down to defeat over the issue of abortion.  

In 2013 Board Chair Diane Clark, a public member from Lake Mills, and Dr. Hamed Tewfik, a physician from Iowa City,  voted to stop Planned Parenthood’s telemed abortion program, which allows women to obtain medical abortions from remote locations without a physician present.  

Senator Janet Peterson (D-Des Moines) led the opposition to the appointees.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A last minute Republican-sponsored budget bill introduced this week at the statehouse should ensure that Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds has the resources she needs to take over as governor.  

Reynolds will assume the office when Governor  Branstad leaves to become U.S. Ambassador to China.    

At the request of the Branstad/Reynolds administration, the bill appropriates $150,000 for transition expenses.    

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Charles Schneider (R-West Des Moines) says with so many budgets getting cut this year, the request was carefully considered:

Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

A program to encourage the installation of art in Iowa’s public buildings is on the chopping block at the statehouse.  

A Republican-sponsored budget bill eliminates the Art in State Buildings program enacted under the leadership of Republican Governor Robert Ray back in 1979.   

Works of art can be  viewed  at more  than 160 public buildings in Iowa, many of them by Iowa artists, as a result of the program that captures  one-half of one percent of the cost of public buildings to commission paintings or sculptures.  

vaping 360/flickr

Electronic cigarettes and other so-called vaping products sold to Iowans on the internet would be regulated for the first time under a last-minute spending bill as the GOP majority strives toward adjournment of this year’s legislative session.      

Under the bill, sellers would be required to obtain a permit to sell the alternative nicotine products online.

Sellers would be required to certify the buyer is at least 18 years old.  And the products would be subject to the state sales tax.      

Joyce Russell/IPR

After two hours of sometimes contentious debate, the Iowa House today voted 56 to 41  to legalize the sale and use of fireworks in Iowa, going along with the Senate, and clearing the way  to send the bill down  to the Governor for his signature.   

Opponents warned of fires, injuries, and other traumas if the governor signs the bill.  

Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley) managed the bill, arguing for the personal freedom of Iowans.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad today signed what’s being called one of the strongest anti-texting laws in the country.  

It’s part of a broader effort to combat distracted driving, which is contributing to an increase in traffic fatalities in Iowa.

The bill will make texting while driving a primary offense so law enforcement can pull over a driver for looking at a hand-held screen for texts or social media or e-mail.   

John Pemble/IPR

The chief administrator for the judicial branch of state government is warning court employees across the state of possible layoffs or reduced courthouse hours, if a proposed GOP judicial branch budget is approved at the statehouse.   

In a memo to staff, David Boyd briefed employees on the proposed budget for next year which reduces judicial branch spending by $3 million compared to this year. 

Boyd said tough decisions will need to be made.

Sarah Boden/IPR

A Republican-dominated panel at the statehouse last night approved a human services budget that changes how family planning programs are paid for across the state.  

The bill will eliminate state funding that used to go to clinics that also perform abortions, including Planned Parenthood.  

Up to now, the state spent just under half a million dollars, or $482,000,  for family planning services including birth control and pregnancy tests.  

The rest came from the federal government.

Jens Olaf-Walter/flickr

A controversial program to  require struggling 3rd graders to get summer reading instruction in order to be promoted to 4th grade is falling victim to  budget cuts at the statehouse.  

As part of a massive education funding bill, a GOP-led committee has eliminated the program, after failing again to find the money to help local schools pay for the summer classes.  

Critics say without a state appropriation, the program amounts to an unfunded mandate for local schools.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Breast cancer survivors and their supporters were at the capitol Thursday for a bill-signing of legislation known as Patty’s Law, named for a West Des Moines cancer patient.  

The new law directs mammogram providers to let a woman know if she has dense breast tissue, so she can get an ultrasound in addition to a mammogram.  

Advocates say dense tissue can prevent tumors from showing up.      

Fifty-nine year old Patty Bernard is suffering from stage four breast cancer.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Calling it an honor, Governor Branstad today signed into law what’s being called the most expansive gun  rights bill in Iowa history, to the applause of a roomful of supporters.  

The bill expands self-defense rights for gun owners, so-called Stand Your Ground. It also allows gun owners with permits to carry weapons into the statehouse. And it protects the confidentiality of permit holders.  

Branstad said he has always supported the second amendment.

Alan Light/flickr

A hydroscience professor at the University of Iowa is praising the work of the Iowa Flood Center, as state lawmakers consider eliminating all state funding for it.  

The center was established to conduct research following the historic floods of 2008.   

Professor Larry Weber heads the UI’s Hydroscience and Engineering department, which oversees the work of the center.

He says the center provided critical information for communities affected by last year’s flooding in eastern Iowa.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A Republican-dominated committee in the Iowa Senate today, on a nearly unanimous voice vote, approved a bill to legalize the production and sale of medical marijuana in Iowa to provide treatment for a wide range of medical conditions.   

The bill is similar to legislation approved in the past when Democrats controlled the Senate. 

It appears to have no chance of passage in the Republican-controlled House.    

Sen. Tom Greene (R-Burlington), called the bill a natural progression.

Joyce Russell/IPR

More than 200 activists converged on the state capitol today, urging more funding for water quality, conservation, and outdoor recreation across the state.  

A Republican-sponsored bill in the House would raise the state sales tax for the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund which was approved by the voters as a constitutional amendment in 2010.  

The bill also creates a water quality revolving fund by diverting dollars currently spent elsewhere in the state budget.

John Pemble

Mandatory minimum sentences require felons to serve a predefined term for certain offenses, and a proposal being considered at the Iowa Statehouse would lower mandatory sentences for certain, non-violent drug crimes.

David Wade Couch/flickr

A bill to enhance bicycle safety has failed to advance at the Iowa statehouse this year, in spite of the growing number of bicycle fatalities on Iowa roadways. 

The bill’s sponsor says he’ll continue to work after the session to reach consensus on the bill.   

The Iowa Bicycle Coalition reports 11 fatalities last year, the deadliest year for cyclists in more than a decade.   

Rep. John Wills (R-Spirit Lake) says increasing the visibility of cyclists is critical.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad says a controversial gun rights bill that gained final legislative approval last week is reasonable and fair with adequate safeguards to protect public safety.   

He says he will thoroughly review the bill before making a final decision, but he appears poised to sign it into law. 

The bill includes new legal protections for gunowners who fire to defend life or property, as well as a wide range of other gun rights provisions.     

Jimmy Emerson/flickr

Officials with the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management say more Iowa schools are taking steps to ensure the safety of children in the event of severe weather.

With the help of federal grants, school districts are creating so-called safe rooms in elementary and secondary school buildings where students and staff can take shelter from tornadoes.  

Twenty school districts are waiting in line for roughly 30 million dollars in grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Joyce Russell/IPR

After more than six hours of sometimes bitter debate extending over two days the Iowa House last night approved a bill which, if it becomes law, would include the most extensive abortion restrictions ever approved in Iowa.   

The bill bans abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy, and enacts a 72 hour waiting period for all abortions.   

House Republicans could not reach consensus on a bill banning all abortions, or another banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.   

Carl Wycoff/flickr

Gov. Terry Branstad’s plan to spend nearly $850 million over the course of 12 years to clean Iowa’s waterways narrowly advanced in the Iowa Senate today, in spite of opposition from lawmakers of both parties.    

Iowa is under pressure from the federal government to remove nutrients from the water which are contributing to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. But at a subcommittee hearing for the Iowa Senate’s Committee for Natural Resources and Environment, the chair downplayed the seriousness of the problem.

John Pemble/IPR

A bill to strengthen an Iowa gun owner’s right to use deadly force with no duty to retreat, also known as a stand-your-ground provision,  passed the Iowa Senate Tuesday by a vote of 33 to 17.   

The wide-ranging bill which is backed by the National Rifle Association also expands gun rights for children, protects the confidentiality of weapons permit holders, and allows a gun owner to go five years instead of one without a background check.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Some state lawmakers will pay more for their health insurance under a bill  approved unanimously in the Iowa House today, after an earlier unanimous vote in  the Senate.  

Some legislators have been paying the union employee rate of $20 a month. 

Under the bill, they will pay 20 percent of the premium cost just as non-contract executive branch employees do.    

For some,  the increase will be as much as $300 per month for state-sponsored health insurance.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

The only Independent member of the Iowa Senate, David Johnson of Ocheyedan, is urging lawmakers not to approve a gun rights bill that will allow anyone with a permit to be armed at the Iowa Statehouse.   

The provision is part of a wide-ranging NRA-backed bill that has passed the House and awaits debate by the full Senate.  

At a statehouse news conference, Johnson held up his own weapons permit, which he says shows he supports the second amendment.

“This is my concealed carry permit,” Johnson said.  “I do have that.”  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad will be undergoing interviews in Washington this week in preparation for his confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.   

The committee will rule on his nomination to be U.S. Ambassador to China at an unspecified time in the future. 

In the meantime staff in D.C. have put together an ambitious schedule of talks.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Governor Branstad has submitted his revised budget to the state legislature, as lawmakers move toward considering a spending plan for the next fiscal year.  IPR Statehouse correspondent Joyce Russell told Clay Masters that the governor had to revise an earlier budget proposal after the Revenue Estimating Conference met in March and said the state would take in less money than expected.

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