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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Gun rights activists are renewing their call to allow firearms at the Iowa State Fair, after a violent incident on the fairgrounds Tuesday night.   

A man was stabbed and critically injured in a fight involving four young men on the southwest corner of the fairgrounds.    

On social media, the Iowa Firearms Coalition is urging the state legislature to end the ban.

"If the Iowa State Fair can't stop violent crime during the fair they should allow lawful citizens to adequately protect themselves,"  the organization wrote on Twitter.

Wikimedia

One part of Iowa’s new comprehensive gun rights law that went into effect in July may end up in court. Under the new statute, a gunowner can sue any local government that tries to keep firearms out of public buildings.  

Dozens of counties with courthouse weapons bans are potential targets. 

Jackson County Chief Deputy Steve Schroeder says they lived through a nightmare a few years back at their courthouse in Maquoketa. 

Alliant Energy

Alliant Energy is launching a new program for customers who want more of their electricity to come from renewable sources. 

The program called “Beyond Solar” could get underway once a new solar power plant in Dubuque goes online this fall.  

But a challenge from environmentalists may stand in the way.   

At a recent workshop at the Iowa Utilities Board, Alliant Energy made the case for “Beyond Solar.” 

Nan Palmereo/flickr

The Iowa Utilities Board today issued an order deregulating landline phone service quality in Iowa.  

That means that local telephone exchanges will no longer be required to meet customer service and quality standards.   

With the growing use of cellphones, deregulating landlines has become more common across the country.  The Iowa order cites the widespread availability of effective competition for local service, including mobile wireless and cable.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Kim Reynolds threw her support behind her appointee to head the Iowa Department of Human Services following complaints about the State Training School for Boys at Eldora.   

An organization known as Disability Rights Iowa released a report criticizing the use of seclusion rooms and restraints on boys referred to the facility by juvenile courts, sometimes for serious crimes.   

Reynolds says DHS Director Jerry Foxhoven is the right person to review the complaint.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Iowa’s largest public employees union is warning of likely legal action after hundreds of government workers lost their overtime rights as of July 1st.   

Under Iowa’s new collective bargaining law, professional employees who hold 160 different government jobs will no longer get paid for overtime. 

Mark Hedberg is an attorney for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees or AFSCME. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Representatives of public employees who could lose their union representation appeared before a statehouse committee Friday to express concern about Iowa’s new collective bargaining law.   

Starting next month, thousands of public workers will cast ballots to continue to be represented by unions.    

The new law requires the regular recertification votes. Retaining union representation used to be automatic. 

Marcia Cirillo/flickr

A hard-fought race for a southeast Iowa legislative seat is entering its final days, and the topic of transgender bathroom rights has emerged as an issue in the race.     

Democrats and Republicans are both waging expensive races to fill the seat vacated with the death of Democrat Curt Hanson in House District 82. Some consider the race a bellwether for Democratic prospects after the Republican sweep of the state last fall.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Kim Reynolds expressed confidence Wednesday that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in the Iowa Senate, where Republicans face a multimillion-dollar court judgment in a sexual harassment lawsuit.     

A district court awarded former Republican Senate staffer Kirsten Anderson $2.2 million after a trial featuring testimony describing a sexually toxic workplace. 

Senate Republicans have retained all leaders and staff while they conduct their own investigation of the court testimony.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Republicans in the Iowa Senate met Friday behind closed doors to discuss a $2.2 million judgment against the Senate in a sexual harassment trial.  

A Polk County jury sided with former staffer Kirsten Anderson who said she was fired after complaining of overt sexual comments by fellow Republicans.    

So far, no one has been disciplined in the case.

Emerging from the more than two hour meeting, Republican Leader Bill Dix said the Senate will conduct its own investigation to determine if discipline is necessary.

Bryan McDonald/flickr

The Iowa Department of Public Health is advising families about a new vaccination requirement for students going back to school next month.  

Under a new state law, meningitis vaccine will be required for students entering 7th and 12th grades for the 2017-2018 school year. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Election dates have been set in September and October for thousands of public sector workers in Iowa to recertify their unions, or to disband their bargaining units.    

It’s part of Iowa’s new collective bargaining law which critics say will make it harder for unions to continue to represent public employees.     

Currently unions representing public employees remain certified unless workers call for a vote to decertify their bargaining unit.

Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association

Members of the All-Iowa Ag Trade Mission to China report getting a good reception from Chinese officials, and they say Gov. Branstad’s appointment as U.S. Ambassador to China has raised Iowa’s profile with Chinese leaders.   

Gov. Kim Reynolds is leading the 35-member delegation representing all major Iowa commodity groups. 

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said the Branstad appointment has raised the profile of Iowa in China when compared to previous trade missions.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A Republican committee at the statehouse today heard from experts on IPERS, the Iowa Public Employee Retirement Fund.

IPERS has unfunded liabilities of $5.6 billion. 

But officials recently updated certain assumptions, including expected investment returns, that could push the projected shortfall higher.  

The new assumptions foresee a 7 percent return on investments, down from an earlier estimate of 7.5 percent.

That means unfunded liabilities in the pension fund could approach $7 billion.

Alex Hanson/flickr

President Trump today nominated former Morningside College professor  and Sioux City radio talk show host Sam Clovis to the top science position at the United States Department of Agriculture.     

Appointees to Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics have traditionally held advanced degrees in science or medicine.   

Clovis holds an undergraduate degree in political science, an MBA, and a doctorate in public administration.    

He was an advisor to President Trump’s Iowa campaign, and has been an advisor at the USDA since January.        

John Pemble/IPR

Iowans with permits to carry handguns can now bring their weapons into the Iowa statehouse under a new state law that’s been in effect since July 1st.   

Statehouse security officers say so far enforcement has gone well.   

Only a few people have displayed their permits and been allowed to enter with a concealed pistol or revolver.   

Since shortly after the September 11 terror attacks, anyone entering the Iowa statehouse has been required to leave their guns or knives behind.  

Now with a permit to carry you can bring in a pistol or revolver.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Kim Reynolds said Tuesday she was not aware of instances of sexual harassment in the Iowa Senate during the years she served as a Republican state senator.       

A Polk County jury Tuesday awarded former Republican staffer Kirsten Anderson a more than $2 million judgment in her sexual harassment case describing vulgar, sexist language by male aides and lawmakers.

Anderson's testimony covered the years 2009 and 2010 when Reynolds represented Senate District 48.     

Huw Loaring/flickr

Officials in Cedar Rapids are evaluating Iowa’s new fireworks law that debuted in the just-completed 4th of July season, after many residents weighed in against it.  

“Out of Cedar Rapids we've had more complaints on fireworks than we had on potholes or even on the speed cameras combined,” said Mayor Ron Corbett.  “That's how many people complained about the fireworks.”

Russell/IPR

Governor Reynolds’s challenger for the Republican nomination for governor has harsh words for how statehouse Republicans are managing shortfalls in the state budget.  

After tax receipts fell short of projections, Republican lawmakers dipped into cash reserves to balance the budget this year.

Gov. Reynolds is expected to spend even more emergency funds to cover the shortfall, and may have to call lawmakers back into special session.

GOP gubernatorial candidate, Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, says the shortfall was predictable and preventable.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Backers of three separate casino proposals made their pleas before the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission Thursday, which will decide later this year whether to approve a new casino for Cedar Rapids.   

The commission turned down a Cedar Rapids proposal in 2014, citing concerns about market saturation and cannibalizing other Iowa casinos.

Developers argued before the board on Thursday that, long-term, a casino for Cedar Rapids would not harm revenues for other gaming operations.    

Joyce Russell/IPR

Cedar Rapids Mayor and GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron Corbett reports a successful initial fundraising effort since announcing his candidacy three weeks ago.  

At a Des Moines news conference, Corbett said he has raised more than $1 million, including $800,000 in cash and additional thousands in commitments, without taking money from political action committees.

Governor Reynolds has reported having $1 million in her campaign war chest.  

Corbett said that was raised over the course of a year with Gov. Branstad’s help.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Iowa motorists are being warned of possible penalties under a new state law designed to protect utility crews working along Iowa roadways.  

The electric utilities of Iowa have launched a Move Over Slow Down campaign to promote the law, which requires drivers to either change lanes or reduce their speed when passing utility vehicles.

The original law was enacted in 2002 covering emergency vehicles with flashing lights. It was revised this year to include utility crews.

Officials say drivers are speeding by much too close to the workers. 

danIIIr/flickr

The State Fire Marshal’s Office has issued fireworks licenses to 664 retail dealers in Iowa in the first year of a new law authorizing the sale and use of commercial-grade fireworks.

But officials say only about two-thirds of the required inspections were completed, due to a shortfall in time and resources.  

Department of Public Safety attorney Barbara Edmondson briefed state lawmakers on the Administrative Rules Review Committee on the new licensing program.  

Linn County Fair

New signs are going up at county fairs across the state warning of the possibility of infections, including e-coli, as part of a new state law protecting fairs from lawsuits.   

The law absolves fair boards from liability if they properly advise fairgoers to wash their hands after touching animals in livestock exhibits and take other precautions to prevent infection.    

Wikimedia

Boards of Supervisors in two Iowa counties have voted to get rid of bans on weapons in their courthouses, ahead of a new firearms law going into effect July 1.   

The votes are in conflict with an order by Chief Justice Mark Cady banning weapons in courthouses in all 99 counties.  

Woodbury County has banned weapons in the courthouse since 2014.  

But the new state firearms law says local governments can be sued over weapons restrictions, so supervisors voted Tuesday 3 to 1 to lift the ban.    

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Kim Reynolds says she is not concerned about support for wind energy from the new Trump administration,  in spite of the president’s remarks in Cedar Rapids last week.  

In comments at the U.S. Cellular Center, Trump implied that wind energy is not reliable and endangers wildlife, sparking concern from industry backers.

But Reynolds said she’s not worried that the Trump administration will pull back on federal support

Joyce Russell/IPR

Iowa U.S. Senator Joni Ernst says she is studying the controversial health care bill unveiled in the Senate yesterday.    

But the freshman Republican is not ready to say whether she’ll vote for the measure that reduces health care benefits for Americans currently on Obamacare, and cuts federal dollars for low-income and disabled Americans.   

“It was just released yesterday,” Ernst said at a statehouse news conference, “so we have 142 pages to go through. I want to make sure that I've had time to go through it, talk to my staff, talk to folks around Iowa.”    

Joyce Russell/IPR

The first ever all-Iowa agriculture trade mission to China will take place this summer, with Governor Kim Reynolds leading representatives from all of Iowa’s main agriculture commodity groups.   

Pork, beef, turkey, corn, soybean, egg and dairy producers will visit with government officials in Beijing, Shanghai and Xian to encourage more purchase of Iowa commodities. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

An Iowa author’s book about Governor Branstad’s long tenure in office is being translated into Chinese by a Beijing publisher.  

Newton author and former newspaperman Mike Chapman wrote Iowa’s Record Setting Governor: The Terry Branstad Story in 2015.  

Two Chinese publishers expressed an interest in translating the book.

Joyce Russell/IPR

One difference is emerging in the workday customs of new Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and her predecessor Terry Branstad.  

Instead of working in a private office on the ground floor of the capitol, Reynolds will conduct daily business in the governor’s more public and expansive formal office upstairs.  

In recent administrations the formal office has been the setting for receptions and bill-signings, but Reynolds plans to work there every day.

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