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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Farm lenders in northern Iowa are taking proactive steps to prevent farm foreclosures, and a business consultant says that has kept many struggling farmers in business while commodity prices remain low.    

David Underwood in Mason City, director of CFO On Demand, follows economic trends in that part of the state.   

He says lenders have formed so-called crisis committees to work with farmers before they get into too much trouble.

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The Iowa economy is still growing, but not as robustly as predicted, and tax receipts for this budget year are off to a slow start.    

That’s the conclusion of members of the Iowa Revenue Estimating Conference,  who say unless things pick up, this year’s state budget of $7.3 billion will have to be trimmed by roughly $130 million.

Department of Management Director Dave Roederer says there are several drags on the economy.

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Gov. Kim Reynolds had phone conversations today with both President Donald Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt about a controversial proposal to scale back the Renewable Fuel Standard, reducing the mandate for Iowa-grown biofuels.    

Iowa politicians are putting a full-court press on the Trump administration, after the EPA proposed  reducing the volume of biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol blended into gasoline.   

Reynolds called her conversation with the president “constructive and productive.”  

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A legislative committee studying Iowa’s opioid epidemic heard testimony today on a serious side effect of increased heroin use in the state.   

Addicts share needles to shoot heroin, and public health experts say that has contributed to a large increase in hepatitis C cases in Iowa. 

Sarah Ziegenhorn with the Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition told lawmakers Iowa should join other states 

and approve needle exchange programs.   

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More than 200 people died from opioid use last year, and in some parts of the state, by the end of this year the total number of overdoses will double. 

A statehouse committee heard two days of testimony on the growing number of deaths from prescription painkillers and heroin in Iowa.  Health care providers urged legislators to expand treatment to those addicted to opioids.

Mike Polich heads the UCS Healthcare drug treatment center in Des Moines.  

He showed lawmakers a photo of patients standing in line to get methadone, a drug that helps addicts get off heroin.

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A former Iowa DCI agent, who was fired after reporting speeding by then-Governor Branstad’s security detail, would not be getting his day in court soon under a motion filed this week in Polk County District Court.  

The motion filed by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller says former agent Larry Hedlund’s case should be put on hold until Branstad completes his assignment as U.S. Ambassador to China.  

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Governor Kim Reynolds' appointee to head the Iowa Department of Human Services today painted a bleak picture of morale among Iowa's child protection workers, citing high caseloads and recent high-profile child abuse deaths.   

Director Jerry Foxhoven told the Iowa Council on Human Services that he's been visiting with social workers individually and in groups to assess the needs on the front lines.   

He says some workers have not met personally with the top DHS official since the days of the Tom Vilsack administration.

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Officials with NAACP of Iowa are planning to try again next year to win protections for African-Americans who face barriers to employment after serving time in prison.    

The initiative known as Ban the Box would eliminate a common question on job applications about an applicant’s criminal history, while preserving the employer’s right to get that information later in the hiring process.  

Backers say ex-convicts who have paid their debt to society are too often turned away in the first round of screening regardless of their fitness for the job.  

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Transgender Iowans who want their sex designation changed on their driver’s licenses will now have clearer guidelines, under proposed rules at the Iowa Department of Transportation.    

Currently, a person born in Iowa who undergoes a sex change can present medical records to the Department of Public Health, get their birth certificate updated, and then present that to the DOT.      

But some states don’t update birth certificates for transgender people.          

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Roughly 2800 immigrants living in Iowa who were brought to the U.S. as children are now participating in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program.  

Under the program, they are freed from the threat of deportation, and granted work permits and other privileges.     

Now DACA is threatened by an order from President Trump. 

Two Iowa sisters wonder how their lives might be changed.

Five years ago, Monica Reyes, 22, and her sister Nilvea, 21,  were living with their mother in New Hampton.

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Gov. Kim Reynolds today lamented the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history that occurred in Las Vegas on Sunday, leaving at least 59 people dead and more than 500 injured.   

“Nobody wants to wake up at five in the morning and read the news we all got up to this morning,”  Reynolds said, beginning her weekly news conference.  “I was sickened by the horrific act.”

Reynolds was asked if she would be proposing new gun control initiatives in light of the shooting.

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A controversial settlement in a sexual harassment complaint against Republicans in the Iowa Senate was officially approved today, putting an end to a lawsuit alleging a sexually-charged atmosphere in the GOP caucus.   

The State Appeals Board agreed that Iowa taxpayers will cover the $1.75 million settlement, with the money going to former GOP staffer Kirsten Anderson and her attorneys. 

A district court had awarded Anderson $2.2 million.   

Solicitor General Jeff Thompson said continuing to fight that verdict could be costly.

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A settlement has been reached in a sexual harassment lawsuit against Republicans in the Iowa Senate.  

In graphic testimony before a Polk County jury earlier this year, former Senate GOP Communications Director Kirsten Anderson described what she called a “toxic” work environment, and claimed she was fired for complaining about explicit sexual comments.

The jury sided with the plaintiff, awarding Anderson $2.2 million.    

Defendants sought a new trial. 

Now the litigation will end. 

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The first test of Iowa’s new collective bargaining law concluded yesterday, with recertification votes ending for 13 Iowa schools and community colleges.   

When ballots were all counted, bargaining units in all 13 schools were recertified with nearly 1300 teachers and faculty overwhelmingly endorsing their union representation.

The new law set a high bar for teachers to continue to be represented by unions.   In the end more than 1100 yes votes were cast, with only 27 teachers voting no.  

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A state official  overseeing the massive rewrite of Iowa’s collective bargaining statute for public workers  says he expects the courts may have to weigh in if employees lose their  union representation in first-ever recertification voting.   

The new law requires all public employee bargaining units to periodically vote to continue to be represented by unions.    

The Public Employment Relations Board is advising workers that if the vote fails, the contract with their employer goes away.   

But board chair Mike Cormack says not everyone agrees.

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Governor Kim Reynolds today reacted with emotion to the ongoing controversy involving NFL players kneeling rather than standing during the playing of the national anthem.  

The protest has grown as more players express opposition to racial injustice and police brutality across the country. 

The Associated Press reported that on Sunday, over 200 athletes declined to stand, while others locked arms with them in solidarity.  Others declined to come out on the field for pre-game ceremonies.

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Teachers in some Iowa school districts and community colleges will find out this week whether they will continue to be represented by a union.  

It’s part of Iowa’s new collective bargaining law that makes it harder for public sector unions to operate in the state.    

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The Iowa Public Information Board, which oversees openness in Iowa government, is itself embroiled in a struggle over a secret meeting it held this summer.      

The nine-member board voted Thursday not to release a recording of the meeting, which disappointed some advocates for transparency in government.  

The controversy stems from a controversial open records case the board is handling. 

Interested parties want the Burlington Police Department to release body camera video from a 2015 fatal police shooting. 

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The Kim Reynolds administration is closing the books on the fiscal year that ended in June, and, as predicted, revenues fell short of what was needed to cover all the spending the legislature approved.  

But the shortfall wasn’t as bad as feared, and the governor won’t be calling lawmakers back into special session.  

At the end of June, the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency estimated that tax receipts had fallen more than $100 million short, far more than the governor could cover with emergency funds.  

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State officials will be keeping a close watch over a new state-run family planning program under an initiative unveiled at a statehouse committee this week.  

The Department of Human Services will be gathering data to determine how services are affected now that Planned Parenthood clinics aren’t included.    

The new state program provides family planning services including contraception at clinics around the state, but only those that don’t offer abortions.  

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A statehouse committee was briefed today on a controversial Republican proposal to save the state millions of dollars in health care costs for indigent, disabled, and elderly people.   

Under the plan, needy patients could no longer get care paid for right away, while waiting to be approved for government help.  

Currently, Medicaid will pay for three months of retroactive coverage.   

DHS Administrator Wendy Rickman briefed the legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee on the proposal.  

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The chairman of the Pottawattamie County Republican Party is urging GOP members to attend a lecture this week by a controversial speaker who will warn of the threat international Muslim extremist groups pose in the Midwest. 

But the county’s GOP Central Committee voted against sponsoring the event, and a Muslim advocacy group is speaking out against it.

County GOP Chairman Jeff Jorgensen invited John Guandolo, a speaker sponsored by the Global Faith Institute in Omaha.  

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When Iowans go to the polls next week for schoolboard elections, they should take note of some new requirements for proving you’re a valid voter.     

It’s part of the Voter ID bill the legislature approved this year. 

The new mandate to show identification at the polls doesn’t go into effect until next year, but in the meantime other verification will be required for some voters.  

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Alternative nicotine products purchased online in Iowa are now subject to sales taxes for the first time under a new law that went into effect July 1st.  

Up to now, electronic cigarettes and vaping products could only legally be sold in Iowa stores and vending machines.     

Now online companies must acquire permits, restrict sales to those 18 or older, and collect state and local option sales taxes.  

So far only a handful of online sellers have acquired permits.

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Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar gave the Mary Louise Smith Chair in Women and Politics address last night to a crowd of over 800 at the Iowa State University Memorial Union. 

The chair has been awarded to prominent women of both parties each year since 1995.      

Klobuchar became the first female U.S. Senator from Minnesota in 2006 and is mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential candidate.  

Klobuchar had practical advice for women considering public office, including running for student government.

First, she said, start with your friends.

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Gov. Kim Reynolds today defended the executive branch agency that’s charged with overseeing compliance with Iowa’s open meetings and public records laws.  

The Iowa Public Information Board is itself the subject of a complaint alleging a violation of the law.    

IPIB is in a legal struggle to force the Burlington Police Department and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation to release video from a fatal 2015 police shooting.   

As allowed by law, the board met in closed session last week to discuss the case.

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The state’s largest teachers union is reaching out to teachers and other employees in 14 Iowa school districts and community colleges where critical recertification votes will take place next month.  

The voting is mandated by Iowa’s new collective bargaining law that went into effect this year.        

For all public sector workers including teachers, the new law requires regular votes to stay unionized which used to be automatic.

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Apple, Incorporated has chosen Waukee for a new high-tech facility,  joining other tech giants Microsoft, Google, and Facebook which built data centers in Iowa in recent years.  

Apple will construct a $1.3 billion campus on 2000 acres to initially include two data centers, with additional expansion in the future.

Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham said, once completed, it will be the largest ever private investment in the state. 

At a news conference on the capitol grounds, Apple CEO Tim Cook called Iowa a home for innovation.

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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.

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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. 

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