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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Majority Republicans in the Iowa legislature have posted a job opening for a Human Resources Director, six weeks after a $1.75 million sexual harassment settlement with a former senate staffer.

The job posting seeks a director to "train managers to supervise employees in compliance with state and federal laws and applicable policies and procedures, including anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and procedures."

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An administrative law judge in Des Moines today heard arguments in an ongoing public records conflict pitting the Iowa Public Information Board against the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation and the Burlington Police Department.  

The Board is pursuing a contested case against the law enforcement agencies, seeking police video and other evidence in the fatal police shooting of Autumn Steele at her home in Burlington in January of 2015.    

The mother of two was shot and killed by Officer Jesse Hill who answered a domestic dispute call at the home.

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Advocates for Iowa’s most severely disabled patients spoke out Tuesday about recent changes in the state’s privately-managed Medicaid program now in its second year. 

One of the for-profit companies managing the program has pulled out, and critics say the neediest patients may be harmed by having to change case managers and providers over a period of one month.    

Senator Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) is a leading critic of Medicaid privatization.  He grilled Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven at a meeting of the Medical Assistance Advisory Council.

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Kim and Connie Schmett will retain their positions in the Reynolds administration for now, while a state ethics board looks into their work as foreign agents for Saudi Arabia.  

But Gov. Kim Reynolds says the legislature should act to ensure that state officials don’t work as foreign agents in the future.  

The Schmetts, who are long-time GOP activists from Clive, own a consulting firm called Schmett & Associates. The Saudis paid the couple over $100,000 for their work on legislation to allow lawsuits against Saudi Arabia after the 9/11 attacks.   

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Iowans going to the polls for municipal elections tomorrow will be asked to show an ID…..but not to worry.

It’s just a run-through county auditors are staging ahead of  Iowa’s new voter ID law going into effect.  

Starting in 2018 voters without an ID will have to swear to their identity, and then in 2019 they’ll be allowed to cast a provisional ballot only.   

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Iowa Republicans are looking ahead to President Trump running for re-election and competing in the Iowa Caucuses in 2020, and a leading Iowa GOP operative predicts the party will rewrite their rules so members of the state GOP governing board can endorse him.

In 2016, central committee members remained neutral, and some Republicans believe that should be the case again in 2020.  

Steve Scheffler who represents Iowa on the Republican National Committee disagrees. 

He says anyone can come to Iowa and run.

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Nearly a quarter of a million patients covered by Medicaid, Iowa’s health care program for the poor, disabled, and elderly, are advised to watch the mail for a new insurance card.  

One of the three for-profit companies who have been managing the program since last year is pulling out.  

The Department of Human Services has been negotiating for months with the companies trying to agree on rates and terms for this year.      

They include Amerigroup Iowa, UnitedHealthcare Plan of the River Valley, and AmeriHealth Caritas.   

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A new initiative to combat childhood obesity in Iowa will get underway next month as nearly one-third of Iowa 10 to 17- year- olds remain overweight or obese.      

Communities in Mills, Dubuque, Henry, and Fayette Counties will receive $18,000 grants to promote the program known as “5210-Healthy Choices Count.”

“This is the first statewide effort to provide consistent messaging and programming regarding the subject of childhood obesity,” said Iowa Department of Public Health Director Gerd Clabaugh.

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There was another court ruling today against public employees over a new state law limiting their bargaining rights in the workplace.

Polk County District Judge Arthur Gamble today threw out a lawsuit filed by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.

The new law treats public safety employees differently than other public workers.

AFSCME claimed that was a violation of the constitution’s equal protection clause.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady Thursday issued an order for Iowa courts to follow, banning the routine use of restraints on juveniles during court proceedings.       

Advocates for juvenile offenders, including Drake University’s Middleton Center for Children’s Rights and the ACLU, recommended the change.

They note that in some Iowa counties, juveniles routinely appear before judges in handcuffs and shackles.  

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By a wide margin, public workers across Iowa have endorsed their union representation in recertification voting that ended this week, mandated by Iowa’s new collective bargaining law.   

But some public employees will not retain their unions, and their contracts will be dissolved. 

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A plan that officials had hoped would keep health insurance affordable for thousands of Iowans has been withdrawn, clearing the way for premiums to more than double.    

Governor Reynolds' administration had been urging the federal government to approve its so-called stopgap plan.  

The plan would have restructured benefits for Iowans getting individual insurance under the Affordable Care Act in order to draw in more young healthy people to keep premiums down.  

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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.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

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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