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.

iowa capitol
John Pemble/IPR file photo

The Iowa Senate elected a new majority leader last week. Sen. Jack Whitver (R – Ankeny) took Bill Dix’s place after he abruptly resigned last week, following video of him appearing to kiss a female lobbyist in a bar surfaced online. While all this drama was going on, there was plenty of legislation moving forward as lawmakers worked to meet a self-imposed deadline for many priority bills. Here’s what IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell says to watch.

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Iowa’s nearly 30-year old energy efficiency program would continue, but would be scaled back significantly, under a compromise energy bill that advanced at the statehouse today.  

Since 1990, Iowans have paid into the program through a percentage of their monthly electricity or natural gas bills.   In turn, they have been eligible for millions of dollars in rebates, retrofits and other energy efficiency initiatives.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill favored by power companies and sharply opposed by consumer advocates and environmentalists advanced today in the Republican-controlled Iowa House.  

Critics warn of higher utility bills while backers say the bill is needed to modernize Iowa energy policy.

The bill scales back energy efficiency programs and changes the rules utilities follow before they build new plants and raise rates.     

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Republicans in the Iowa Senate Wednesday chose Sen. Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny) as their new Majority Leader, the most powerful position in the Senate.  

Whitver succeeds Sen. Bill Dix, who resigned abruptly this week after compromising photos of him with a statehouse lobbyist appeared on the internet.   

The 28-member GOP caucus chose Whitver, an eight-year veteran of the Iowa Senate, by secret ballot in a closed door meeting two days after Dix resigned.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The Republican Chair of the Ethics Committee in the Iowa Senate says he is willing to look at new ethics rules after the departure of the top Senate Republican.  

But Sen. Jerry Behn (R-Boone) questioned whether lawmakers can dictate what kind of relationships legislators can have with lobbyists.

Majority Leader Bill Dix, who is married and the father of three children, resigned his leadership post and his Senate seat after photos surfaced of him appearing to kiss a lobbyist at a Des Moines bar.  

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UPDATE: 4:00 p.m.

The top Republican in the Iowa Senate, Bill Dix, has resigned his positions as Majority Leader and state Senator, hours after compromising photos of him appeared on the political website Iowa Starting Line.  

The photos showed Dix having drinks with and apparently kissing a female lobbyist at a Des Moines bar one evening earlier this month.  

Some were calling for Dix’s resignation last year after a court approved a $1.75 million sexual harassment settlement against Senate Republicans.  

John Pemble / IPR

State lawmakers are preparing for state agency budget cuts. On Friday, Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Revenue Estimating Conference has revised its estimate of tax receipts this year.

Latest revenue projects have a little bit of good news. The Revenue Estimating Conference meets periodically to estimate how much money in taxes will be collected. This time, members revised their estimate up compared to their estimate in December. “They have a little more money to spend this year,” Russell reports.

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Iowans who are getting health insurance through the individual marketplace under the Affordable Care Act would have a new option under a bill that passed  by a large margin  in  the Iowa Senate last night.   

Under the bill, the Iowa Farm Bureau would offer what are being called barebones health plans not subject to the rules of the ACA,  including covering pre-existing conditions and other  mandates.

That would be allowed because the plans are not insurance policies. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Religious groups on Iowa’s university campuses would have more freedom to choose their leaders, under a GOP-sponsored bill that advanced in the Iowa House today.

Backers say the bill will address a conflict at the University of Iowa, where a student group lost its certification after denying a leadership post to a gay student.    

Rep. Sandy Salmon (R-Janesville) calls the university’s action outrageous. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Democrats  in  the Iowa House today  tried  to stop a bill they say will lower standards for Iowa teachers.  

Under the GOP-backed bill, graduates of Iowa teacher preparation programs would no longer be required to pass a standardized subject matter test to get a teaching license.   

Backers say the change is needed to address a teacher shortage.   

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A key member of the Kim Reynolds administration faces a confirmation vote in the Iowa Senate, and at least one Democrat says it is not a done deal.   

Jerry Foxhoven has directed the Department of Human Services since June, while complaints have continued to pour in about Iowa’s new privatized Medicaid system, including denial of care for patients, and delayed payments to doctors and hospitals.      

At her weekly news conference, Gov. Reynolds said Foxhoven has done a great job in his short time in office.

John Pemble / IPR file

IPR's Morning Edition Host Clay Masters checks in with Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell to talk about what's happened in the legislature and what to expect in the week ahead. 

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Round Two for Republican-sponsored tax cuts got underway at the statehouse today.   

Gov. Reynolds’ proposal to cut taxes by $1.7 billion over the next six years got its first airing in the Iowa House, one day after the Senate approved a bigger, faster plan.   

Senate Republicans call their bill “bold” to cut taxes by a billion dollars a year.  

The GOP is characterizing the governor’s plan as sustainable, practical, and pragmatic.    

The bill cuts personal income taxes by up to 23 percent. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Republicans in the Iowa Senate Wednesday night approved the largest tax cut package in Iowa history, approving a bill to reduce corporate and individual income taxes by as much as 30 percent. 

"Today is a monumental day for Iowa families and Iowa workers," said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull). “Today, we are taking a bold step in making Iowa’s economy more competitive."

Iowa’s top corporate tax rate of 12 percent, currently the highest in the country, would be reduced to 7 percent under the bill.

Joyce Russell/IPR

State lawmakers heard preliminary plans for a new statewide system for childhood mental health care Wednesday.  Advocates say currently there is no organized way to deliver care to kids to match the statewide program for adult mental health.   

A Department of Human Services working group studied the issue over the summer.  They’re recommending a new state board to set standards for children’s mental health care statewide.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill to address Iowa’s low ranking among states for services for the mentally ill was unanimously approved today by the Iowa House.    

The bill expands treatment options across the state to address crisis situations which fall short of the need for hospitalization.  

A bipartisan coalition of providers, patients, advocates, and law enforcement came up with the recommendations.   

Rep. Shannon Lundgren (R-Dubuque)  said mental health and substance abuse disorders have touched every Iowa family.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has said a major overhaul of the Iowa tax code is important to her this legislative session. The Senate has released its plan. IPR Morning Edition Host Clay Masters talks with Joyce Russell about what to expect this week at the capitol.

John Pemble/IPR

Republicans in the Iowa Senate Thursday put a tax cut bill on the fast track which would cost the state treasury a billion dollars a year.   Business groups are generally excited about making Iowa’s tax climate more competitive.   Democrats question how the state can afford the tax cuts without catastrophic effects on public services including education. 

Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull) has been dreaming about this tax cut bill for a long time.

Iowa General Assembly

By a vote of 33 to 16, the Iowa Senate Wednesday night approved a bill to crack down on protesters who cause disruption to critical infrastructure in the state.

The bill is backed by Energy Transfer, developer of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was damaged along its Iowa route by protesters opposing the project.

The pipeline was built to carry crude oil from North Dakota diagonally across 18 Iowa counties.

The bill creates a new offense of sabotage against critical infrastructure. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

One by one, the presidents of Iowa’s public universities gave severe warnings to lawmakers today about declining state support for higher education, and what it will mean for the institutions in the future.  

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld told the House Appropriations Committee that over the past 20 years, the state budget, the student body, and consumer price index have all grown, while state support for the U of I today is a few million dollars less than it was back then.  

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Iowa Senate Republicans are proposing a tax overhaul plan that it says would provide $1 billion a year in individual and corporate tax relief. 

It proposes lowering the top individual tax rate from 8.98 percent to 6.3 percent beginning in 2019.

“Working families in Iowa deserve big, bold tax relief,” said Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull).

The proposal, called the Iowa Working Families Tax Relief Act, also lowers the state’s corporate tax rate, which is currently 12 percent.

Iowa General Assembly

On a vote of 30 to 20, the Iowa Senate passed a bill to allow longer bus rides for schoolchildren in large rural districts struggling with transportation costs.  

Under the bill, both elementary and secondary students could ride up to 75 minutes one way. 

Longer bus rides would be allowed if public hearings are held and parents are notified 30 days before a route is changed.

Currently, younger children’s rides are limited to 60 minutes.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Advocates for schools, social services, and the courts turned out at the capitol today for a public hearing on mid-year budget cuts.   

Tax receipts have not met projections so lawmakers are negotiating how much to cut the Regents universities, human services, and most other areas of state government.  

A Senate bill would cut university funds for this academic year by $14 million.    That’s after this year’s budget was already reduced by $30 million.    

Iowa State University student Kody Olson is worried the cuts will result in higher tuition.

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The Iowa Senate will take up a bill requiring all school districts to work with local law enforcement and emergency personnel to develop safety plans for an active shooter situation. The bill advanced out of committee the day after a deadly school shooting in Florida last week.

Manson Northwest Webster Community School District Superintendent Justin Daggett says his district has a protocol ready.

"It is something that we are trained and prepared for and we pray to God that we never have to do it," Daggett says.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Taxes are getting a lot of attention at the statehouse and there were a few controversial bills that fell by the wayside last week and some that are moving forward. IPR's Joyce Russell reports on the week at the capitol. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill to protect doctors who do not provide patients with diagnostic information that could prompt some to seek an abortion has advanced in the Iowa House.

House Republicans are focusing on the so-called wrongful birth bill as a pro-life initiative this year. 

“It’s something the caucus would like to address,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer.  

Under the bill, a woman would not be able to sue a doctor for withholding information about fetal abnormalities.  

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Consolidated rural school districts that require long bus rides for students would get help with transportation costs under a bill that cleared the Republican-dominated House Education Committee at the statehouse Wednesday.

Transportation costs per student vary from $100 in urban districts to $900 or more in districts that cover large geographic areas.

Under the bill, the state would spend $11.2 million next year to buy down per-pupil busing costs so no district pays more than $432 per student.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill to divert public school funds to private schools received an emotional hearing at the statehouse Tuesday. 

Under the so-called school choice bill, the state would take most of the money that would normally cover one student’s education in a public school and give it to a family to cover private school tuition instead, up to $5,000.  

Advocates for private schools, including religious schools, lined up in favor of the bill.

Joyce Russell/IPR

As Iowa lawmakers consider legislation to outlaw so-called sanctuary cities, Governor Kim Reynolds is using the issue in a fundraising appeal.   

In a fundraising letter to supporters,  the Reynolds re-election campaign warns that Des Moines and Iowa City are moving in the direction of becoming sanctuaries to protect undocumented immigrants. 

She asks supporters to join the effort to ban sanctuaries, and stand with her for the rule of law.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A so-called religious freedom bill advanced in the Republican-controlled Iowa Senate Monday, in spite of vigorous objections from major business groups.   

The bill would give Iowans more legal protection if they deny services to gay and lesbian people for religious reasons.   

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