Joyce Russell


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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Plant fossils at the Palenteology Depository at the University of Iowa are getting a new home and a new reorganization so they can be more useful to researchers around the world. 

Collections manager Tiffany Adrain says more than 20,000 specimens collected over the last ten years will be catalogued for the first time.  

They’re also being rehoused in a safer environment.

Officials at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown say a new World War II memorial now graces the grounds of the institution, following the earlier placement of monuments for other wars.   

The memorial was dedicated last month, less than a year after a Des Moines service group took on the project.  

Commandante Jodi Tymeson says a veteran at the home requested the memorial.


Iowa Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer says the state is proceeding with a controversial plan to privatize the state’s health care program for the poor and disabled, in spite of a legal challenge by unsuccessful bidders for the contract. 

An administrative law judge will rule on complaints of irregularities in the choice of four companies to manage the more than four-billion dollar Medicaid program.     

Palmer says they’re proceeding with what they know.

“We'll operate from whatever we need to in response to that decision,” Palmer says.  


Governor Branstad Monday opened the door to the possibility of settling Syrian refugees in Iowa if a bill before Congress to tighten screening procedures becomes law.  

The bill would require that the director of the FBI and other top security officials approve all applicants from Syria and Iraq and assure they pose no threat.   

Otherwise, Branstad says letting the refugees in is not safe.

“If instead we're working as a country I'd feel much safer and more willing to do that,” Branstad says. 


Christian conservatives are weighing their options as the campaign  continues in Iowa for the Republican nomination for president.   Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson leads in Iowa polls among evangelicals.  Some pastors are shaking their heads that a non-politician is in the lead.   

Ron and Michelle Lovelein came to Des Moines Friday night from Eau Claire, Wisconsin for  a forum sponsored by the Christian conservative group The Family Leader.    They are keen on Ben Carson.

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A years-long battle between Iowa’s community banks and its credit unions flared up at the capitol today, where a legislative committee is conducting a routine review of tax credits.  

The financial institutions are taxed differently, and banks argue it’s an unlevel playing field.  

Kevin VanderLee with the Iowa Bankers Association describes a new community bank that was started in Johnston.

“There were individuals who made their investment to start a bank,” VanderLee says.


Educators from the Council Bluffs School District joined the governor at his weekly news conference today with an enthusiastic report on the first year of Iowa’s new Teacher Leadership and Compensation Program, known as TLC.  

Eventually schools will get 150 million dollars a year to promote teachers from the classroom into mentoring roles. 

Superintendent Martha Bruckner says the mentors are helping both new and experienced teachers.

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Update at 5:00pm: Late this afternoon, Gov. Branstad ordered all state agencies to stop any work on settlement of Syrian refugees.  

Original story: Several states are rethinking plans to accept refugees after the terrorist attacks in Paris. So far, Iowa is not among them.

Investigators say at least one of the Paris attackers slipped through Europe’s immigration system. 


A psychiatrist at Veterans Hospital in Iowa City says more training in pain management may be needed for doctors getting licensed to practice in Iowa.  

At a drug abuse symposium in Iowa City last week, Dr. Anthony Miller discussed the overprescribing of pain medicine that’s become common in American medicine since the 1990’s.      

Miller says the Iowa Board of Medicine has taken some steps to inform doctors of the risks of prescribing opioids.

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Police, prosecutors, and medical professionals  gathered in Iowa City yesterday to address the growing problem of heroin addiction in Iowa.       

They heard how overuse of prescription painkillers leads addicts to opt for heroin which is cheaper and easier to get.  

Heroin now rivals the methamphetamine epidemic.

Dr. Anthony Miller with Veterans Hospital in Iowa City says the heroin problem has its roots in the 1990’s when views on managing pain shifted in American medicine.   


Holding kids back if they don’t read at grade level by the end of third grade was on the agenda at the statehouse Tuesday. 

Education officials are writing the rules for a 2012 law that gives parents of struggling students a choice:  send them to summer school, or they won’t be promoted to fourth grade.  

Speaking before the Iowa Administrative Rules Review Committee, Department of Education spokesman Phil Wise recalls the education reform bill the legislature passed in 2012.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The Iowa National Guard has admitted two women to artillery units in Northwest Iowa for the first time in history.  

Officials say they expect to recruit more women, now that combat jobs are open to females. 

Iowa National Guard Adjutant General Timothy Orr says 18 percent of those serving in the Iowa Air Guard are women, with 15 percent in the Army Guard.

Orr would like to double that.

He says women in support units are already exposed to combat:

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Energy company Dakota Access wants to build a pipeline across Iowa to transport crude oil from North Dakota.   The company has initiated eminent domain proceedings against Iowa State University.  

But university officials say they’re willing to negotiate voluntary easements for the ISU property the pipeline would cross. 

Vice-President Warren Madden says the university will resist condemnation, but if the Iowa Utilities Board approves the project, then ISU is ready to negotiate terms.    

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A statehouse committee spent the day Tuesday hearing about what’s being called a massive change in how health care in Iowa is delivered to the poor and disabled. 

Private companies are scheduled to take over management of the state-federal health care program known as Medicaid which serves more than 560-thousand Iowans.  

Critics worry about the effect on the state’s most vulnerable populations.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad says he will not intervene in the controversial Bakken Pipeline project which is under consideration by the Iowa Utilities Board.  

And he is downplaying landowners concerns.    

Dakota Access wants to crisscross the state with a pipeline to transport crude oil from North Dakota.   

Some landowners have not granted permission.    But Branstad argues the company won’t be taking their land.

Joyce Russell/IPR

There was emotional testimony at the statehouse today where the governor’s committee on racial disparities in Iowa’s criminal justice system was completing its work.   

The NAACP and others say the group’s recommendations do not go far enough to address the problem of disproportionate numbers of blacks in Iowa prisons.  

With a limited mandate, the committee recommends making jury pools more inclusive, keeping juvenile court records private, expanding drug courts, and cutting prison phone call costs.  


The Iowa Court of Appeals today ruled in favor of a complainant in a sexual harassment case.  

The case alleges violations of Iowa’s Civil Rights statute by Iowa Senate Republicans.

Senate Republicans fired Kristen Anderson from her job as communications director in May of 2013 alleging poor job performance.   Anderson claimed she was fired for reporting sexual harassment on the job. 

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A Republican state lawmaker has called a hearing on what he calls obscene material presented at the Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth.   

The House Oversight Committee will examine whether tax dollars were inappropriately spent.

There’ve been complaints from lawmakers in the past about the conference which is sponsored by Iowa Safe Schools to address bullying and other issues of interest to LGBTQ youth. 

Governor Branstad has announced a new Wrongful Conviction Division in the Office of State Public Defender.  

Officials will conduct DNA analysis for many as 100 inmates who may have been convicted on what’s now called “junk science.” 

The state will work with an organization known as the Innocence Project, which has helped exonerate inmates in more than 300 cases on the basis of DNA evidence.     

State officials will review Iowa cases in which hair analysis played a major role in convictions.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

After some upheaval last week, the race for the Democratic nomination for President has mostly shaken down to a two-person contest between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.   And in Des Moines on Saturday, their supporters were among the thousands of activists gathered for the annual Jefferson Jackson Dinner.

College student Katya Wendt came down from Minnesota with the group Saint Olaf for Bernie Sanders.   She has her talking points down.

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A federal prosecutor for Iowa’s Northern Judicial District briefed an advisory group in Des Moines today on the growing problem of heroin addiction, especially in eastern Iowa.  

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Chatham addressed the Iowa Drug Policy Advisory Council.    

Chatham prosecutes drug crimes, including dozens of heroin cases which have grown as users move from prescription meds to heroin.     

He says says heroin on the streets is getting more and more potent.

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A state lawmaker from Cedar Rapids today grilled the director of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission over a proposed license for a smoke-free casino in their city.  

The commission denied Cedar Rapids a gaming license in 2014, citing a saturated market for casinos.  

The city is arguing that a smoke-free casino would fill an unmet need, since smoking is allowed in other gambling houses, an exemption to Iowa’s law banning smoking in public places. 

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Officials with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources report a problem with enforcement of Iowa's 35-year old bottle bill. 

Some retailers are turning consumers away when they bring their bottles and cans back for a refund. 

Retailers sometimes contract with redemption centers to take back the containers. But officials say centers are cutting back their hours to make ends meet. They say their one-cent handling fee hasn't been raised since the bottle bill passed.

That throws the responsibility back to retailers. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Several Republican candidates for president are vying for the votes of Christian conservatives who make up a significant percentage of Republican caucusgoers.    There’s a subset of the evangelical vote that’s especially coveted, and that’s homeschoolers.  

If you attract a homeschool parent to your side you may get the whole family to knock on doors and put up yard signs.  

On a recent Saturday, with beautiful fall weather outside, Kaylee Morris was inside staffing the phone bank at the Ted Cruz for President campaign headquarters in Urbandale

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A double-wall fence across the entire southern U.S. border would work to keep immigrants out, and it could be built within one year of a new administration in Washington.  

That’s from Arkansas Governor and now GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, addressing a crowd of about a hundred people at the Westside Breakfast Club at the Machine Shed Restaurant in Urbandale.  

Huckabee would model the fence on a double wall in San Diego that reduced the apprehension of immigrants from Tijuana, Mexico. 

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There was emotional testimony today before a legislative committee over a new tax break for Iowa manufacturers which Democrats say the legislature should have signed off on.   

The Branstad administration proposes a sales tax exemption on more of the supplies manufacturers purchase, from drill bits to lubricants and coolants, and from saw blades to air filters and hydraulic fluids. 

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A top Iowa Republican has harsh words for his party’s representatives in the U.S. House, where the GOP has so far been unable to agree on a new House Speaker to replace the outgoing John Boehner.

Opposition from a cadre of conservatives known as the Freedom Caucus helped lead Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to withdraw from the race for the top post.

Former Iowa Republican party chair Matt Strawn says it looks like Republicans don’t know how to govern.

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Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley says legislation to crack down on illegal immigrants is meeting with opposition in the Republican-dominated Judiciary Committee that Grassley chairs in the U.S. Senate.   

As proposed by Grassley, the bill would levy a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for felons who are deported and then return to the country. 

 Grassley says mandatory minimums have become controversial.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Major Iowa GOP donor Bruce Rastetter today stood alongside Chris Christie and announced he’s endorsing the New Jersey Governor for the Republican nomination for president.     

Rastetter and other influential Iowans are backing the man they tried to convince to run in the last presidential election. 

Flanked by other political heavy hitters, Rastetter announced the endorsements any candidate would envy. 

The group wasn’t happy with the Republican field four years ago, so they boarded Rastetter’s plane and flew to Christie’s home turf.

Joyce Russell/IPR

About 150 people turned out in Alden in Hardin County yesterday to hear New Jersey Governor and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie, who’s on a two-day campaign swing through the state.  

Christie leveled hard-hitting criticism at the Obama administration, particularly in foreign policy.  

Christie says the president focused on climate change more than the trouble spots around the world.