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

Governor Branstad is throwing his full support behind anti-abortion legislation making its way through the Republican-controlled legislature, saying the new GOP majority in the Iowa Senate is making it possible.     

Branstad backs a bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy that has passed the Iowa Senate and is now awaiting a vote in the full House.   

House Republicans last week introduced a measure to ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, or roughly 5 to 6 weeks into pregnancy, before some women would know they are pregnant.

Jan and Gregary Franck

An Ankeny couple whose son died in an accident caused by a drunken driver is backing legislation at the statehouse that’s part of Governor Branstad’s agenda to combat distracted driving.  

The bill would create a new 24-7 monitoring program to allow a judge to order twice-a-day sobriety tests for drivers who test way over the legal limit, or cause an injury, or refuse a breath test at the scene of a first offense.    

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad this week submitted his revised budget for next year as required by law, and his fellow Republicans in the legislature are concerned about how little wiggle room there is in the spending plan.

Because tax receipts have faltered, Branstad reduced his 2018 spending plan by more than two percent compared to what he submitted in January, and there’s no ending balance to provide a cushion for emergencies.     

Jason Weaver/flickr

A bill has advanced in the Iowa House to toughen penalties when texting while driving results in a fatal car crash.   

The bill clarifies that a driver who’s been texting can be guilty of vehicular homicide just as one who has been drinking.   

The bill follows a fatal crash in Fort Dodge in 2015 that killed 56-year-old David Castenson and 85-year-old Velma Castenson.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A controversial proposal to ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat has been removed from the GOP agenda in the Iowa House, roughly 24 hours after it was introduced.   

Republicans will now return their attention to a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.  

“This is the legislation we have consensus on,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Joel Fry (R-Osceola).   “We’ve been working over the last few hours trying to get consensus within our caucus.”

Joyce Russell/IPR

Legislation to address Iowa’s deadly opioid epidemic passed the Iowa House today by a wide margin, but lawmakers turned down a Democratic amendment to make it harder to fraudulently acquire prescription painkillers.   

The bill will require all doctors to register with the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.  

John Pemble/IPR

A controversial bill to limit benefits for injured Iowa workers won final legislative approval last night, passing the Iowa Senate on a partisan vote of 29 to 21.   

Backers say the current system has become biased against employers.  

Critics say the bill will reduce employers’ liability to provide benefits to workers injured on the job.  

Officials estimate that 20,000 Iowa workers are injured each year.

Joyce Rrussell/IPR

A bill to bring the minimum wage down in counties that have raised it won final legislative approval in the Republican-controlled Iowa Senate last night.  

It will now be up to Governor Branstad to sign the bill rescinding the higher wages in effect in Polk, Linn, Johnson, and Wapello Counties, where the wage is now higher than the statewide minimum of $7.25 an hour.      

Republicans complained the current trend creates a hodge-podge of varying wages.   

“This bill creates certainty, predictability, and consistency,” said Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull).   

John Pemble

In all but four Iowa counties, employers must pay a minimum wage of $7.25/hour - the same as the federal minimum wage.

Recently, Johnson, Linn, Polk and Wapello Counties struck out on their own and passed resolutions to raise their minimum wage above that level. Now, the Iowa legislature is in the process of reigning in those counties by passing a GOP-led measure that would ban individual counties from deciding their own minimum wages.

John Pemble / IPR

Lawmakers begin another week at the Iowa statehouse this week.

Joyce Russell/IPR

On a partisan vote of 26 to 21, the GOP-controlled Senate last night approved its version of an elections bill that will require voters to present identification at the polls. 

The bill also requires pollworkers to verify signatures of voters, adds some complexity to absentee voting, as well as limiting the window for early voting.

That has led Democrats to argue that the bill will make it harder for Iowans to be handed a ballot, and more complicated  to complete the voting process. 

Chris Becker/flickr

Students from Iowa State University were at the Capitol Thursday lobbying for a bill they believe will save the lives of underage drinkers on college campuses.  

The bill is designed to get young people to seek help when someone is incapacitated from too much alcohol.       

ISU Student Body President Cole Staudt recalls returning home with a drunken friend who was borderline unresponsive.

“I thought to myself, probably he should see someone, but I'm 19 years old,” Staudt recalls.  “If I get in  trouble with the law my world is over.”

Joyce Russell/IPR

Three nominees for the Iowa Board of Regents faced questioning from the Iowa Senate Education Committee, as Senators mull whether to confirm Governor Branstad’s choices for six-year terms on the board.

The nominees are former Republican State Senator Nancy Boettger of Harlan and former Democratic State Representative Nancy Dunkel of Dyersville.

Branstad reappointed Regent Sherry Bates, who has served only a partial term on the board.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The Ethics Committee in the Iowa House Wednesday voted unanimously to reprimand Drew Klein with the Koch Brothers-funded group Americans for Prosperity for failing to register as a lobbyist on controversial legislation earlier this session.   

The bill dramatically scaled back collective bargaining rights for Iowa public employees.  

Iowa Federation of Labor president Ken Sagar filed the complaint alleging Klein lobbied aggressively for the collective bargaining bill without registering his support for the bill as required by House ethics rules.  

John Pemble/IPR

Republican lawmakers in the Iowa House have begun a second attempt to ban abortion in the state after the 20th week of pregnancy.     

The GOP caucus in the House is strongly anti-abortion, but there are divisions about how far an abortion restriction should go.   

Earlier the House Human Resources committee failed to pass the 20-week ban.   

Many members had wanted to go further and outlaw abortion altogether.   

Now a 20-week ban has come over from the Senate, with an exception for fetal anomalies.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad and First Lady Chris Branstad will not be leaving their entire family behind when they move to Beijing for Branstad to serve as U.S. Ambassador to China.    

Speaking in Des Moines Tuesday,  Branstad said his daughter Allison and her family will also be moving to Beijing.  

“My daughter has interviewed for a teaching job in China via Skype,” Branstad said.    “She got an offer from the Beijing International School.”

Costa accepted the offer to teach 3rd grade.

Governor Branstad Tuesday reminisced about the history of home-schooling in Iowa, in an address to homeschool families in town for their annual Day at the Capitol.  

Branstad told a crowd of about 300 parents and children that Iowa is known for its supportive environment for home schools.   

He recalls the 1991 legislation to legalize homeschooling in Iowa:

Joyce Russell/IPR

A Republican-sponsored committee at the statehouse Monday got an earful from Iowa businesses and individuals who might be affected if the GOP succeeds in scaling back hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks.   

Both parties agree tax credits are one of the fasting-growing pieces of the state budget.  

The cost of one list of credits approaches half a billion  dollars, ranging from incentives for businesses to attract new jobs, to tax breaks for families who adopt kids, to credits for contributions to private school tuition.

John Pemble/IPR

Thursday, the Iowa House of Representatives passed a bill to scale back workers' compensation benefits in Iowa along party lines. A similar bill is now under consideration in the Iowa Senate. During this hour of River to River, host Joyce Russell talks with lawmakers about whether or not Iowa’s workers' compensation system is really being abused, and what lawmakers plan to do about it. 

State Representative Andy McKean from Anamosa (R) and State Senator Nate Boulton (D) join the conversation, as well as Richard Lesline, who is now disabled after a shoulder injury.

Problem gamblers would have a new option for keeping themselves out of Iowa casinos under legislation that passed the Iowa Senate last week.  

Currently, gamblers can voluntarily ban themselves from casinos for life.  

Under the bill, a problem gambler who earlier agreed to a lifetime ban could get back onto the gaming floor once five years have passed.    The gambler would then be subject to a renewable ban every five years.

John Pemble/IPR

There was bad economic news from the statehouse today and budget writers are making plans to adjust.

A panel of economic experts revised downward their projections of growth in state tax receipts for the fiscal year that ends in June.  

They estimate growth of less than 3%, while the budget was based on expected growth of nearly four-and-a-half percent.   

Holly Lyons with the Revenue Estimating Conference stresses the state is not heading into a recession.

Joey Gannon/flickr

After bitter partisan debate, the Iowa House last night approved a bill to change the rules for Iowa workers filing asbestos-related lawsuits.   

Critics say workers exposed to the cancer-causing substance could be harmed by the bill.   

But backers say meritless cases are clogging up the courts.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey says the state’s poultry producers are reviewing their biosecurity measures now that new cases of avian flu have been reported in other states.   

The disease caused millions of dollars in losses in Iowa in 2015, with the destruction of as many as 31 million birds.  

“We have seen this new case in Tennessee, and a couple low-pathogenic cases in Tennessee and Wisconsin,” Northey said.     “I'm sure everybody's checking their biosecurity plans again.”

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad today condemned anti-immigrant comments that appeared in a weekend tweet from Republican 4th District Representative Steve King.   

King wrote in support of anti-immigration Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders who wants to ban the Quran in the Netherlands and shut down mosques.   

“Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny,” King tweeted.   “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else's babies.”

Kay Henderson/Radio Iowa

After lengthy and sometimes emotional debate, the Iowa House last night approved a wide-ranging gun rights bill and sent it over to the Senate for their consideration. 

Republicans argued it restores Iowans’ Second Amendment rights that have long been denied.   Democrats called it dangerous and predicted more gun violence if it becomes law.  

It was an exciting day for Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley).

Joyce Russell/IPR

Opponents of a bill banning a higher minimum wage which is working its way through the Iowa House far outnumbered supporters at a public hearing at the statehouse last night.    

The bill would rescind minimum wages approved in Polk, Linn, Johnson, and Wapello Counties that are higher than the statewide wage of $7.25 an hour. 

Low-income Iowans and their advocates, religious groups, child advocacy groups, and students all spoke out against the bill and in favor of a higher minimum wage.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The state of Iowa will receive a multi-million dollar windfall as part of a $15 billion  settlement with German carmaker Volkswagen over its emissions cheating scandal.   

Iowa’s $21 million share must be spent on projects to reduce toxic emissions into the Iowa environment.  

A federal judge approved the settlement between Volkswagen and state and federal governments last year.  

The carmaker sold nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles with model years 2009 to 2016 equipped with so-called defeat devices to get around emissions standards.  

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Iowa lawmakers are quickly moving several high profile bills to Governor Terry Branstad's desk. During this hour of River to River, Iowa Public Radio’s Dean Borg talks with statehouse reporters about what’s happened so far this session and the live wire politics surrounding what still remains.

Iowa Public Radio’s Joyce Russell, James Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Bill Petroski of the Des Moines Register, and Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa join the conversation. 

John Pemble / IPR

Bills in the Iowa legislature that did not meet a self-imposed deadline last week are now dead. That means action likely won’t be taken on bills dealing with the death penalty and a medical marijuana program. “There’s no surprise that some of the top GOP priorities are very much alive and moving forward,” says IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell. Here’s some of the highlights moving forward.

John Pemble/IPR

Racial profiling by Iowa law enforcement officers was the subject of a hearing at the statehouse this week though time ran out for a bill to address the issue. 

Instead, senators will request an interim committee to study how to outlaw taking someone’s race into account when a traffic stop is made.  

Banning racial profiling is a top priority of the NAACP.

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