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 says a controversial gun rights bill that gained final legislative approval last week is reasonable and fair with adequate safeguards to protect public safety.   

He says he will thoroughly review the bill before making a final decision, but he appears poised to sign it into law. 

The bill includes new legal protections for gunowners who fire to defend life or property, as well as a wide range of other gun rights provisions.     

Jimmy Emerson/flickr

Officials with the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management say more Iowa schools are taking steps to ensure the safety of children in the event of severe weather.

With the help of federal grants, school districts are creating so-called safe rooms in elementary and secondary school buildings where students and staff can take shelter from tornadoes.  

Twenty school districts are waiting in line for roughly 30 million dollars in grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Joyce Russell/IPR

After more than six hours of sometimes bitter debate extending over two days the Iowa House last night approved a bill which, if it becomes law, would include the most extensive abortion restrictions ever approved in Iowa.   

The bill bans abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy, and enacts a 72 hour waiting period for all abortions.   

House Republicans could not reach consensus on a bill banning all abortions, or another banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.   

Carl Wycoff/flickr

Gov. Terry Branstad’s plan to spend nearly $850 million over the course of 12 years to clean Iowa’s waterways narrowly advanced in the Iowa Senate today, in spite of opposition from lawmakers of both parties.    

Iowa is under pressure from the federal government to remove nutrients from the water which are contributing to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. But at a subcommittee hearing for the Iowa Senate’s Committee for Natural Resources and Environment, the chair downplayed the seriousness of the problem.

John Pemble/IPR

A bill to strengthen an Iowa gun owner’s right to use deadly force with no duty to retreat, also known as a stand-your-ground provision,  passed the Iowa Senate Tuesday by a vote of 33 to 17.   

The wide-ranging bill which is backed by the National Rifle Association also expands gun rights for children, protects the confidentiality of weapons permit holders, and allows a gun owner to go five years instead of one without a background check.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Some state lawmakers will pay more for their health insurance under a bill  approved unanimously in the Iowa House today, after an earlier unanimous vote in  the Senate.  

Some legislators have been paying the union employee rate of $20 a month. 

Under the bill, they will pay 20 percent of the premium cost just as non-contract executive branch employees do.    

For some,  the increase will be as much as $300 per month for state-sponsored health insurance.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

The only Independent member of the Iowa Senate, David Johnson of Ocheyedan, is urging lawmakers not to approve a gun rights bill that will allow anyone with a permit to be armed at the Iowa Statehouse.   

The provision is part of a wide-ranging NRA-backed bill that has passed the House and awaits debate by the full Senate.  

At a statehouse news conference, Johnson held up his own weapons permit, which he says shows he supports the second amendment.

“This is my concealed carry permit,” Johnson said.  “I do have that.”  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad will be undergoing interviews in Washington this week in preparation for his confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.   

The committee will rule on his nomination to be U.S. Ambassador to China at an unspecified time in the future. 

In the meantime staff in D.C. have put together an ambitious schedule of talks.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Governor Branstad has submitted his revised budget to the state legislature, as lawmakers move toward considering a spending plan for the next fiscal year.  IPR Statehouse correspondent Joyce Russell told Clay Masters that the governor had to revise an earlier budget proposal after the Revenue Estimating Conference met in March and said the state would take in less money than expected.

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.

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