Joyce Russell


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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Truck drivers, bus drivers, and other operators of commercial vehicles could be more likely to lose their licenses for texting while driving, under legislation the Iowa Department of Transportation will ask state lawmakers to approve this year.  

Operators of commercial vehicles in Iowa are already pulled over and fined for texting or operating a handheld mobile phone, but it’s a general citation for violating federal rules.   

Iowa law does not spell out a specific cellphone citation for operators of commercial vehicles.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

Ambassador Terry Branstad is back home in Iowa for the first time since assuming his post in China, arriving for his brother’s funeral in Winnebago County on Monday, and planning to spend the holidays here. 

Branstad traveled back to the state with his wife Chris, daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughters.   They will attend Christmas Mass at Christ the King Church in Des Moines and return to China on January 3rd.

Branstad was working at a desk in the governor’s offices Wednesday, catching up on ambassador business.   

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Kim Reynolds’ administration is backing off proposed rules for guns in Iowa day cares, something the Department of Human Services up to now has not addressed.    

DHS was scheduled to present the proposed rules before state lawmakers last week, but the item was  pulled from the Administrative Rules Review Committee agenda.  

At her weekly news conference, Reynolds said they want to hear from all stakeholders first.

“We hadn’t done that,” Reynolds said.   “We want to make sure we're looking at that from all perspectives.” 

Joyce Russell/IPR

State legislators of both parties Monday grilled representatives of the for-profit companies who manage Iowa’s health care program for the poor and disabled, after a report was released about how many patients are losing health care services.  

The director of the Managed Care Ombudsman Program presented the report to the legislature’s Health Policy Oversight Committee.

It showed that denial, reduction, or termination of services is the number one complaint of Medicaid recipients under the privatized program.


Statehouse Republicans are interviewing candidates, hoping to have a new human resources professional on hand before the legislature reconvenes next month.  

The new position is being created after a former GOP Senate staffer won a $1.75 million settlement alleging a sexually-charged work environment.


A north Iowa business consultant is painting a picture of deteriorating finances for Iowa farmers, as the agricultural economy continues to languish.    

David Underwood of Mason City  is one of three members of the Revenue Estimating Conference, which this week predicted essentially flat state tax collections this year due in part to weakness in the farm sector.      

Underwood said up to now, farmers had enough reserves to get them through the recent lean times.

Kay Henderson

The former state senator who has agreed to advise the Iowa Senate on sexual harassment issues says it was a problem during her tenure, and she wishes she had set up a policy to address it back then.

Ambassador Mary Kramer who had a long career as a human resource manager in the private sector served in the Senate from 1990 to 2003, including two terms as president.  

In a taping for Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, Kramer said while she was Senate president, she handled sexual harassment complaints.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Iowa Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley has been….in his words…..dropped from the conference committee charged with writing a final version of the giant tax cut bills which have passed the U.S. House and Senate.       

Grassley is the current senior ranking member and past chair of the Senate Finance Committee.    

Burlington Hawkeye

The Burlington Police Department and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation have lost the latest round in their struggle to keep private certain records from a fatal police shooting in Burlington. 

In January of 2015 Officer Jesse Hill accidentally shot and killed 34-year-old Autumn Steele at her home after answering a domestic abuse complaint. 

The Iowa Public Information board has hired Des Moines attorney Mark McCormick as a special prosecutor in the case, seeking the release of police body camera videos, emergency calls, and other evidence.

RecycleMe Iowa

The Iowa grocery and beverage industries are gearing up again to try to repeal Iowa’s popular bottle deposit law when lawmakers return to the capitol in January.   

They released a survey today they say shows Iowans would prefer better recycling programs.      

The Iowa Grocery Industry Association and the Iowa Beverage Association are offering a bill that’s similar to legislation that advanced through one House committee last year.

Iowa Secretary of State

Thousands of Iowans should be watching the mail for new state-issued Voter ID cards they’ll need at the polls starting next year if they don’t already have an official government-issued ID.       

It’s part of Iowa’s controversial new voter ID statute approved by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed into law by Gov. Branstad.    

The Iowa Law Enforcement Academy trained a record number of law enforcement personnel this year.

Director Judy Bradshaw says that’s because more Iowa law officers are leaving the profession after a relatively short time on duty. So law enforcement agencies are sending more and more new recruits to the academy for training.

Bradshaw was a career police officer with the Des Moines Police Department for 34 years.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The head of the Iowa Department of Corrections briefed Gov. Reynolds today on an increase in violent crime in the state that he called shocking.  

Statistics from a national survey show that from 2006 through 2016, Iowa was one of only two states in the country where the incidence increased for all four categories of violent crime, including homicide, robbery, rape, and aggravated assault.  

At the same time, the recidivism rate is on the rise for perpetrators of violent crime. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

The presidents of Iowa’s Regents universities today made presentations to Gov. Kim Reynolds and her budget advisors, requesting minimal increases in funding for next year. 

Last year, university budgets were cut by $30 million.

Now the universities are asking for a mostly status quo budget for next year, except for new money to increase financial aid for students and for new capital projects on the campuses.   

New ISU president Wendy Wintersteen, now in her second week in office, was making her first budget appeal.          

Joyce Russell/IPR

Gov. Reynolds today expressed confidence in Iowa’s privately-managed health care program for the poor and disabled, even as thousands of Medicaid patients are being pulled out of the new system.     

One of three for-profit companies managing the program, AmeriHealth Caritas, has dropped out.   Another company, AmeriGroup, can’t absorb some of AmeriHealth’s 215,000 patients.

As a result, at least 9,000 patients are going back to the traditional state-run Medicaid program, at least until AmeriGroup can build up capacity. 

benjamin sTone/flickr

A health care option that’s an alternative to traditional insurance has been growing in popularity in Iowa and across the country.    

Members of so-called health care sharing ministries write checks every month to cover the health care bills of other members, without the guarantees and oversight of traditional insurance.  

Even more Iowans are expected to enroll now that some premiums under the Affordable Care Act have skyrocketed.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

The top Republican in the Iowa Senate today announced new steps to address workplace culture.     

It’s the latest development following a $1.75 million sexual harassment settlement for former Senate staffer Kirsten Anderson, who described overt sexual comments in the GOP caucus.

In a news release, Majority Leader Bill Dix announced former Ambassador and former Republican Senate President Mary Kramer has agreed to serve as a volunteer advisor to the Iowa Senate to improve the workplace culture.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Iowa’s chief watchdog for residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities is giving Gov. Reynolds a candid evaluation for a new system eliminating onsite visits.   

Deep cuts to the Iowa Department on Aging has led the Long-Term Care Ombudsman to use electronic communication instead of onsite visits to advocate for patients and respond to complaints of abuse or neglect.   

Ombudsman Cindy Pederson briefed the governor on the change during budget hearings last week.

She said communicating electronically is a big change for the residents.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Labor advocates are criticizing problems with the recertification voting that involved thousands of Iowa’s public sector workers this fall.  They want the Public Employment Relations Board to improve the  system before more voting takes place next year.  

Iowa’s new collective bargaining law requires public sector workers to periodically re-endorse their unions, which used to be automatic.  

This year, 87 percent of teachers, roadworkers, court employees, and others voted to retain their union representation.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Majority Republicans in the Iowa Senate have altered their plans for addressing sexual harassment after internal dissent about how to proceed.  

They’ve scuttled a plan to hire a human resources director to hear sexual harassment complaints in the future, but House Republicans disagree. 

Senate Republicans are addressing the issue after former senate staffer Kirsten Anderson won a $1.75 million sexual harassment settlement.  

Last week leaders announced they would hire a human resources manager.    

Joyce Russell/IPR

A prominent Iowa Republican couple has been let go from the Kim Reynolds re-election campaign while a state ethics board looks into their work as foreign agents for Saudi Arabia.      

Executive branch officials Kim and Connie Schmett earned more than $100,000 from the Saudis for helping fight legislation in Congress to allow victims of the September 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia.    

The Reynolds campaign announced the Schmetts will no longer co-chair Reynolds’s Polk County committee.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

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."

Burlington Hawkeye

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.

Joyce Russell/IPR

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.

Joyce Russell/IPR

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.   


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.

Joyce Russell/IPR

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.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

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.

Bill Badzo/flickr

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.