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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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.

Joyce Russell/IPR

On her first full day in office, Gov. Kim Reynolds today named an acting lieutenant governor to serve with her as she completes the last 20 months of Gov. Terry Branstad’s term.  

But to comply with an attorney general’s ruling, the new appointee will not officially hold the office and will not become governor if Reynolds should be unable to serve.   

John Pemble/IPR

Kimberly Kay Reynolds officially became Iowa’s 43rd governor and the state’s first female chief executive in formal ceremonies at the statehouse Wednesday. 

First, Governor Branstad had to formally resign.

“I’m pleased to present my letter of resignation as I prepare for this exciting new adventure as Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China,” Branstad said in a ceremony in his formal office.      

Then the attention shifted to the statehouse rotunda where Chief Justice Mark Cady delivered the oath of office to Reynolds before invited guests and friends.    

Joyce Russell/IPR

Gov.Terry  Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds Tuesday held the final statehouse news conference of Branstad’s long career,  outlining plans for official swearing-in ceremonies on Wednesday.

Branstad will resign from office and be sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to China.   Then Reynolds will be sworn in as the 43rd governor of Iowa.    

At the news conference, Reynolds thanked the governor for their years of service together

iprimages

Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has asked the FBI for copies of memos that may exist documenting conversations former director James Comey had with his superiors in the Trump administration.   

That follows reports suggesting the president may have tried to influence an FBI probe.

The New York Times reports that Comey created memos regarding his interactions with the president, documenting what he perceived as improper efforts to influence an ongoing investigation.    

AgriLife Today

Iowa beef products could be reaching Chinese consumers by mid-July under a U.S.-Chinese trade agreement announced last week.

China imposed an embargo on U.S. beef after a case of Mad Cow disease in 2003.  

At his weekly news conference, Branstad called lifting the embargo a “really big deal.”

“This is something we wanted for years and years,” Branstad said.   “So I intend to bring Iowa premium beef to China and I intend to serve it in the ambassador’s residence and in the embassy.”      

John Pemble / IPR

Governor Branstad is about to complete his tenure as Iowa’s and the nation’s longest serving governor with his likely confirmation soon as U.S. Ambassador to China.    As Iowans weigh in on the Branstad legacy, views differ depending on whether you’re looking at Branstad’s earlier terms, or those he’s just completing.    

For Des Moines attorney Doug Gross, Gov. Branstad’s chief of staff in  his early years in office, it's not difficult to name Branstad's biggest achievement from that time up to now.

Joyce Russell/IPR

As a crowd of legislators and other supporters looked on, Gov. Terry Branstad today signed a bill legalizing the sale and use of commercial-grade fireworks in the state for the first time since the 1930’s.  

The bill goes into effect at once.

The governor expects the Fire Marshal’s Office to have rules in place to enable the sale and use of fireworks for this 4th of July.    

Applause broke out as the governor signed the bill.

“Let the fireworks begin,” Branstad declared.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds says it’s too early to recommend any change in state policy, after last week’s fatal shooting of Pottawattamie County deputy Mark Burbridge, whose funeral was held in Council Bluffs today.

Deputy Burbridge was killed in the line of duty when an inmate he was escorting back to jail with another deputy took one their firearms and shot them both.    

Reynolds says the Branstad administration will stay in touch with the Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Department officials as they review the incident.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

In a surprise formal opinion issued today, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller concluded that Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds should not appoint a new lieutenant governor when she assumes the state’s highest office.   

The opinion contradicts an informal opinion from Miller last year.   

Republicans are sharply critical of the new advice.

In December, Miller’s office said it had researched Iowa law and consulted with the governor’s office.

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.

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