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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The head of the Iowa Department of Human Services took tough questions yesterday at the statehouse about a report commissioned following the deaths of two young Iowans who were adopted out of foster care.   An outside agency looked at Iowa’s foster care system and at the caseloads for DHS social workers.   Director Jerry Foxhoven said the problems won’t be solved overnight.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill to ease the penalties for first-time possession of small amounts of marijuana cleared a Republican-dominated panel at the statehouse Thursday.  GOP lawmakers stressed that marijuana would still be illegal, but possessing five grams or less would be a simple misdemeanor instead of a serious misdemeanor.  Urbandale Republican Brad Zaun says youthful indiscretion is penalized too harshly under the current law:

John Pemble/IPR

The head of the Iowa Department of Human Services Wednesday admitted problems with Iowa’s new family planning program that takes the place of Planned Parenthood clinics around the state.      

After lawmakers said no state money should go to clinics that perform abortions, the state is redirecting funds to other clinics for subsidized birth control.      

Director Jerry Foxhoven took questions about the program in an appearance before the Senate Human Resources Committee.  

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A coalition of more than two dozen state, local, and national organizations rallied at the statehouse today against the proliferation of large hog confinement operations known as CAFOs, which they say have diminished the quality of life in the Iowa countryside.   

The Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture is calling for a moratorium on new large hog operations until fewer than 100 Iowa waterways remain impaired.   

It’s one of a package of 15 bills offered by Senator David Johnson (I-Ocheyedan) to strengthen regulation of hog farms.

Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio

Lawmakers return to the capitol Tuesday after the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The 2018 session started last week. Here are takeaways from IPR’s Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell says going into week two.

Joyce Russell/IPR

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Grassley  (R-New Hartford) is warning about competition from a proposed new Indian-run casino in Carter Lake in southwest Iowa.  

At a statehouse budget briefing, Grassley said if the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska proceeds with its plans, the new casino would draw gamblers away from the three state-regulated casinos in Council Bluffs.  

Those include Ameristar, Harrah’s and Horseshoe.   

John Pemble/IPR

The Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court Mark Cady Wednesday painted a worsening picture of the condition of the Iowa justice system, after years of declining or status quo budgets for the judicial branch.  

In his Condition of the Judiciary Address, Justice Cady said that insufficient resources are beginning to “tear at the fabric of the mission of the courts” to provide justice for all Iowans.  

The judicial branch workforce was cut this year by 10 percent and there are over 115 unfilled positions, including 11 district court judgeships.

John Pemble/IPR

Gov. Kim Reynolds delivered a 43-minute Condition of the State Address to a joint convention of the Iowa House and Senate Tuesday, the first ever by a woman in the state’s history.   She laid out her agenda for the upcoming legislative session, and took the bully pulpit on the issue of sexual harassment.   

Reynolds received an unusually long standing ovation….just for showing up.

“It's an honor to be here today as your 43rd governor and to deliver my first Condition of the State address,” Reynolds began.   

John Pemble / IPR

At the capitol, state lawmakers gaveled in for their 2018 legislative session.

Majority Republicans are promising a pro-growth, low tax agenda and a balanced budget before they head home to face the voters.     

Minority Democrats are warning that Iowans are paying attention, after last year’s conservative program was signed into law.

Republicans started off the day with their traditional fundraising breakfast in downtown Des Moines, since they can’t raise money for their campaigns once the legislature convenes.       

John Pemble / IPR

There was a spirit of optimism in the air as state lawmakers gaveled in the 2018 session. Opening day often brings talk of bipartisanship and cooperation, but that spirit never seems to last, especially in an election year.

Nevertheless, state Senator Pam Jochum, a Dubuque Democrat, struck a hopeful tone about the coming session, although her party is in the minority in a Senate controlled by Republicans 29 to 20. She says last session they made their voices heard.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

State lawmakers return to the capitol Monday for their 2018 legislative session.  Majority Republicans achieved many conservative priorities last year, including scaling back collective bargaining restricting abortions, and expanding gun rights. More Republican initiatives are on the agenda this year.     

At the December meeting of the Revenue Estimating Conference, once again, analysts revised downward their estimates of tax receipts flowing into state coffers.  

Gov. Reynolds’ top budget aide said once again it will be status quo spending at best next year.

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An out-of-state Democratic group is targeting an Iowa statehouse race, hoping to turn a Republican house seat from red to blue.   

The volunteer organization Postcards to Voters is sending hand-written, hand-designed postcards urging Democrats in House District 6 in Sioux City to go to the polls to elect Democrat Rita De Jong in a special election on January 16. 

Postcards to Voters founder Tony McMullin says they target special elections around the country when 

turnout is usually low and where there’s a chance to flip a seat from the GOP to the Democrats.    

Tim Whelan/flickr

Truck drivers, bus drivers, and other operators of commercial vehicles could be more likely to lose their licenses for texting while driving, under legislation the Iowa Department of Transportation will ask state lawmakers to approve this year.  

Operators of commercial vehicles in Iowa are already pulled over and fined for texting or operating a handheld mobile phone, but it’s a general citation for violating federal rules.   

Iowa law does not spell out a specific cellphone citation for operators of commercial vehicles.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

Ambassador Terry Branstad is back home in Iowa for the first time since assuming his post in China, arriving for his brother’s funeral in Winnebago County on Monday, and planning to spend the holidays here. 

Branstad traveled back to the state with his wife Chris, daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughters.   They will attend Christmas Mass at Christ the King Church in Des Moines and return to China on January 3rd.

Branstad was working at a desk in the governor’s offices Wednesday, catching up on ambassador business.   

USMC/Wikimedia Commons

Kim Reynolds’ administration is backing off proposed rules for guns in Iowa day cares, something the Department of Human Services up to now has not addressed.    

DHS was scheduled to present the proposed rules before state lawmakers last week, but the item was  pulled from the Administrative Rules Review Committee agenda.  

At her weekly news conference, Reynolds said they want to hear from all stakeholders first.

“We hadn’t done that,” Reynolds said.   “We want to make sure we're looking at that from all perspectives.” 

Joyce Russell/IPR

State legislators of both parties Monday grilled representatives of the for-profit companies who manage Iowa’s health care program for the poor and disabled, after a report was released about how many patients are losing health care services.  

The director of the Managed Care Ombudsman Program presented the report to the legislature’s Health Policy Oversight Committee.

It showed that denial, reduction, or termination of services is the number one complaint of Medicaid recipients under the privatized program.

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Statehouse Republicans are interviewing candidates, hoping to have a new human resources professional on hand before the legislature reconvenes next month.  

The new position is being created after a former GOP Senate staffer won a $1.75 million settlement alleging a sexually-charged work environment.

inkknife_2000/flickr

A north Iowa business consultant is painting a picture of deteriorating finances for Iowa farmers, as the agricultural economy continues to languish.    

David Underwood of Mason City  is one of three members of the Revenue Estimating Conference, which this week predicted essentially flat state tax collections this year due in part to weakness in the farm sector.      

Underwood said up to now, farmers had enough reserves to get them through the recent lean times.

Kay Henderson

The former state senator who has agreed to advise the Iowa Senate on sexual harassment issues says it was a problem during her tenure, and she wishes she had set up a policy to address it back then.

Ambassador Mary Kramer who had a long career as a human resource manager in the private sector served in the Senate from 1990 to 2003, including two terms as president.  

In a taping for Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, Kramer said while she was Senate president, she handled sexual harassment complaints.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Iowa Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley has been….in his words…..dropped from the conference committee charged with writing a final version of the giant tax cut bills which have passed the U.S. House and Senate.       

Grassley is the current senior ranking member and past chair of the Senate Finance Committee.    

Burlington Hawkeye

The Burlington Police Department and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation have lost the latest round in their struggle to keep private certain records from a fatal police shooting in Burlington. 

In January of 2015 Officer Jesse Hill accidentally shot and killed 34-year-old Autumn Steele at her home after answering a domestic abuse complaint. 

The Iowa Public Information board has hired Des Moines attorney Mark McCormick as a special prosecutor in the case, seeking the release of police body camera videos, emergency calls, and other evidence.

RecycleMe Iowa

The Iowa grocery and beverage industries are gearing up again to try to repeal Iowa’s popular bottle deposit law when lawmakers return to the capitol in January.   

They released a survey today they say shows Iowans would prefer better recycling programs.      

The Iowa Grocery Industry Association and the Iowa Beverage Association are offering a bill that’s similar to legislation that advanced through one House committee last year.

Iowa Secretary of State

Thousands of Iowans should be watching the mail for new state-issued Voter ID cards they’ll need at the polls starting next year if they don’t already have an official government-issued ID.       

It’s part of Iowa’s controversial new voter ID statute approved by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed into law by Gov. Branstad.    

The Iowa Law Enforcement Academy trained a record number of law enforcement personnel this year.

Director Judy Bradshaw says that’s because more Iowa law officers are leaving the profession after a relatively short time on duty. So law enforcement agencies are sending more and more new recruits to the academy for training.

Bradshaw was a career police officer with the Des Moines Police Department for 34 years.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The head of the Iowa Department of Corrections briefed Gov. Reynolds today on an increase in violent crime in the state that he called shocking.  

Statistics from a national survey show that from 2006 through 2016, Iowa was one of only two states in the country where the incidence increased for all four categories of violent crime, including homicide, robbery, rape, and aggravated assault.  

At the same time, the recidivism rate is on the rise for perpetrators of violent crime. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

The presidents of Iowa’s Regents universities today made presentations to Gov. Kim Reynolds and her budget advisors, requesting minimal increases in funding for next year. 

Last year, university budgets were cut by $30 million.

Now the universities are asking for a mostly status quo budget for next year, except for new money to increase financial aid for students and for new capital projects on the campuses.   

New ISU president Wendy Wintersteen, now in her second week in office, was making her first budget appeal.          

Joyce Russell/IPR

Gov. Reynolds today expressed confidence in Iowa’s privately-managed health care program for the poor and disabled, even as thousands of Medicaid patients are being pulled out of the new system.     

One of three for-profit companies managing the program, AmeriHealth Caritas, has dropped out.   Another company, AmeriGroup, can’t absorb some of AmeriHealth’s 215,000 patients.

As a result, at least 9,000 patients are going back to the traditional state-run Medicaid program, at least until AmeriGroup can build up capacity. 

benjamin sTone/flickr

A health care option that’s an alternative to traditional insurance has been growing in popularity in Iowa and across the country.    

Members of so-called health care sharing ministries write checks every month to cover the health care bills of other members, without the guarantees and oversight of traditional insurance.  

Even more Iowans are expected to enroll now that some premiums under the Affordable Care Act have skyrocketed.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

The top Republican in the Iowa Senate today announced new steps to address workplace culture.     

It’s the latest development following a $1.75 million sexual harassment settlement for former Senate staffer Kirsten Anderson, who described overt sexual comments in the GOP caucus.

In a news release, Majority Leader Bill Dix announced former Ambassador and former Republican Senate President Mary Kramer has agreed to serve as a volunteer advisor to the Iowa Senate to improve the workplace culture.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Iowa’s chief watchdog for residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities is giving Gov. Reynolds a candid evaluation for a new system eliminating onsite visits.   

Deep cuts to the Iowa Department on Aging has led the Long-Term Care Ombudsman to use electronic communication instead of onsite visits to advocate for patients and respond to complaints of abuse or neglect.   

Ombudsman Cindy Pederson briefed the governor on the change during budget hearings last week.

She said communicating electronically is a big change for the residents.  

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