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.

Ways to Connect

Joyce Russell/IPR

Public health experts and medical professionals crowded into a committee room at the statehouse today, presenting a united front against a bill to allow more Iowans to avoid getting their children vaccinated for preventable diseases.    

Currently, families can claim a religious exemption.   The bill would extend that to anyone with a personal conviction against vaccines.   

John Pemble / IPR

A bill to cut tens of millions of dollars in spending to balance this year’s state budget is making its way through the Iowa House and Senate, and a top Democratic budget-writer is  criticizing one proposal they say will harm poor families who are already in tough circumstances.   

The bill negotiated by majority Republicans in the House, Senate, and governor’s office would cut lodging support for families who have to spend time in Iowa City while getting health care.  

John Pemble/IPR file photo

A long-held tradition of the Iowa Senate is about to shift under a rule change promoted by the new Republican majority.    

At the beginning of each day, through what’s called points of personal privilege, senators express their views on any subject, sometimes at length. 

Under new Republican rules, that will occur right before adjournment.   On many days that will be after some lawmakers and many observers have left the building. 

John Pemble/IPR

Dozens of artists and representatives of arts organizations from around the state crowded a committee room at the statehouse today, urging lawmakers not to empty out a trust fund that benefits the arts in communities around the state.   

The Iowa Cultural Trust fund is on the chopping block as state lawmakers strive to cover a shortfall in the state budget for the fiscal year that ends in June. 

A tentative budget agreement would take the entire $6 million in the fund, and use it to offset cuts to a range of state agencies.

Mike Gatzke/flickr

There’s another effort underway at the statehouse to make sure student athletes in collision sports get proper evaluation in the event of a head injury.  

A bill to require a health care professional at every high school varsity football, soccer, or wrestling match got its first hearing of the year at the capitol today.   

Lawmakers are trying again to address the problem of student athletes going back into games instead of being sidelined after a head injury or possible concussion.

Radio Iowa

Statehouse Republicans have tentatively agreed to scale back some of Governor Branstad’s biggest proposed budget cuts for the fiscal year that ends in June. 

But numerous agencies will still have to give up millions of dollars they expected to be able to spend.     

The GOP is struggling to cut more than $100 million from this year’s budget  because tax receipts have not met expectations.    

Senator Randy Feenstra (R-Hull) said for example the governor’s request to cut $25 million from the Regents schools gave legislators heartburn.

John Pemble /IPR file photo

A Republican lawmaker is proposing a change to Iowa's self-defense law, saying that Iowa needs to rewrite a so-called 'stand your ground' statute.

"I feel that we’re limiting people the ability to stand up and protect themselves," says Mark Chelgren, a Republican Senator from Ottumwa. His bill "strikes the clause under the state's reasonable force statue that 'requires one to abandon or retreat'" if s/he feels threatened. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad says the investigation continues into the abuse of patients at the state-run Glenwood Resource Center in western Iowa. 

But he says he will not second-guess the Department of Human Services for not reprimanding supervisors at the facility which cares for patients with profound mental disabilities.

Six employees were fired and others were disciplined for physically and verbally abusing patients, but that did not include managers.

John Pemble / IPR

Bills at the Iowa statehouse are still in the very early stages but IPR’s Joyce Russell is keeping watch on everything. Here’s what she says is worth noting:

The top priority right now is cutting more than $100-million from this year’s state budget. “As we’ve said,” Russell says, “Agencies including the Regents will have to come up with some significant cuts even though the year is half-over.”

John Pemble/IPR

A program to benefit fine arts instruction in Iowa classrooms is on the chopping block, as the Iowa legislature considers Governor Branstad’s education budget for next year.  

The governor recommends eliminating a $25,000 appropriation for a mentoring program for fine arts teachers.  

Through the Iowa Alliance for Arts Education, teachers raised money from the private sector and were expecting a matching grant from  the state.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Voting absentee would get a little more complicated under Secretary of State Paul Pate’s proposed legislation he’s  calling the Election Integrity Act.    

On Thursday, Pate briefed the House State Government Committee on the proposed bill which includes a controversial plan for Voter ID.  

In a packed committee room, Pate discussed the identification of both voters who go to the polls, and those who request an absentee ballot.  

“Because more than 40% of voters are voting absentee ballots, I want to ensure the integrity of those ballots,” Pate said.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Representatives of university towns are back at the capitol this year, trying to get relief from loud and drunken student parties that are disrupting life in residential areas.  

They oppose a bill that pits landlords against residents who want peace and quiet for their single-family neighborhoods.     

IPR Images

A plan to cut more than $100 million out of this year’s state budget is taking up much of the oxygen at the statehouse in the opening days of the legislative session.   

As a result, lawmakers are off to a slower start than usual dealing with other bills.

Twenty-two bills on various subjects were introduced into the House today after a full week with no House Files read in.

“It is unusual,” said Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer (R-Clear Lake).  “Other years we've read them in sooner.”  

John Pemble

The governor laid out what will most likely be his final Condition of the State Address last week. Lawmakers had Monday off for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, but they’re back at it on Today. Here are a few items IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell is watching.

Planned Parenthood funding is in the crosshairs of Republicans. The plan to eliminate state funding for Planned Parenthood is part of the governor’s budget and has strong Republican support.

John Pemble / IPR

As the first week of Iowa's 2017 legislative session comes to a close, River to River host Ben Kieffer checks in with Iowa Public Radio statehouse correspondent Joyce Russell to get an idea of what's on tap in the Iowa House and Senate.

Proposal to change confirmation process

Joyce Russell/IPR

As Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds prepares to succeed Governor Branstad in the state’s highest office, a Democratic state senator wants a say in who becomes the next lieutenant governor.   

Sen. Tony Bisignano (D-Des Moines) has filed a bill to require House and Senate confirmation for anyone becoming lieutenant governor without having been voted into office.   

The bill would require a simple majority vote, so Bisignano says Republicans could easily confirm Reynolds’s choice.

John Pemble

In what may be his final Condition of the State address of his career, Governor Terry Branstad urged lawmakers to prioritize K-12 funding, road safety, and water-quality.

He also signaled support for changes to the state’s collective bargaining laws and called for 2017 to be a “Year of Manufacturing” in Iowa. 

John Pemble/IPR

Governor Branstad delivered what will likely be his final Condition of the State Speech at the statehouse Tuesday, outlining plans to improve education, public safety, health care and water quality.   But he also unveiled a proposal to cut more than $100 million from this year’s state budget, which hits higher education the hardest.   Majority Republicans haven’t ruled out cutting some of the areas the governor would protect.     

The governor has never been known for his prowess as a public speaker, and he got off to a rocky start.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Amid pomp and circumstance and Republican celebration, the 87th  General Assembly of the Iowa Legislature convened in Des Moines today for the 2017 legislative session.   The new Republican majority promises significant conservative change on a number of fronts.      Minority Democrats say get ready for a fight. 

The house and Senate gaveled in nearly simultaneously at 10 a.m for a day dominated by traditional opening speeches expressing hopes of working together to get things done.     

John Pemble / IPR

The Iowa legislature starts its new session on Monday. It’s the first time Republicans have controlled both chambers and the governor’s office since 1997. IPR’s Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell lays out some of the big issues at the capitol this year.

Clay Masters/Iowa Public Radio

Elected officials of both parties say there's almost no chance state lawmakers will pass a sales tax increase for soil and water conservation. That's in spite of a growing bipartisan effort from Iowa Water and Land Legacy, a coalition of conservationists, farmers and business leaders.

The organization is pushing the legislature to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. In 2010, 63 percent of Iowa voters approved a constitutional amendment creating the trust fund with a 3/8 cent sales tax if at any time the Iowa sales tax is increased.     

John Pemble / IPR File Photo

As Governor Branstad awaits confirmation as U.S. Ambassador to China, he is declining to comment on some controversial actions by his new boss, President-elect Donald Trump.  

China’s foreign ministry lodged a formal complaint with the U.S. after Trump took a phone call from Taiwan’s president congratulating him on his election.  

At a statehouse forum this week, Branstad was asked if the president-elect’s action would make his job more difficult.

Joyce Russell/IPR

State agencies will not be furloughing state workers in order to balance their budgets between now and the end of the fiscal year in June.    

That’s what Governor Branstad told reporters at a legislative seminar Wednesday as he previewed his plans to cut this year’s budget by $100 million.      

The cuts are needed because of a December revenue estimate that fell short of earlier projections.  

Governor Branstad is putting the finishing touches on his tax cut plan.   He promises not to make across-the-board cuts to balance the budget, or to mandate furloughs.  

John Pemble/IPR

With Republicans now in control of the Iowa House and Senate and the governor’s office, the so-called trifecta, enthusiasm for cutting taxes is running high.   GOP leaders in both chambers have been telling groups around the state of their hopes and dreams for tax cuts.   But so far Governor Branstad is not on board.     

Joyce Russell/IPR

Popular new network transportation services such as Uber and Lyft now face state regulations for the first time, which backers say will provide protection for drivers and passengers alike.  

Under a new law that went into effect January 1st, the companies will have new requirements for insurance, background checks, and zero tolerance for drug and alcohol use.  

Manuel Alarcon/flickr

Iowans shopping at Amazon.com have a surprise in store when they go online today.  

Starting January 1, the retail giant will be collecting sales tax for the first time on purchases in Iowa, as they do in 30 other states.   

Department of Management Director Dave Roederer says it will be good for state coffers and for other retailers.

“It is leveling the playing field for the main street merchants,” Roederer said.  “Main Street merchants are required to collect sales tax.  The online was not.  So that levels that out.”

SmartSign/flickr

Lifetime handicapped parking permits will soon be a thing of the past, thanks to a new state law cracking down on abuse of the permits.    

Starting January 1st, the bright blue placards for the permanently disabled will be good for only five years, after which they will need to be renewed.  

Acting Department of Transportation Director Mark Lowe says there are approximately 530,000 lifetime permits in circulation.

He says that includes some abuse.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad is expressing confidence that the new Donald Trump administration will be pro-ethanol, in spite of his recent pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Nominee Scott Pruitt is Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma.  

Pruitt has argued against the Renewable Fuel Standard in proceedings before the U.S. Supreme Court.   The RFS mandates ethanol blends in the nation’s fuel supply.

Branstad says Pruitt is a brilliant conservative lawyer.

Timothy Freund/flickr

A statehouse committee today heard impassioned testimony in a dispute over a proposed new season for hunting wild turtles in Iowa.  

After action by the legislature, the DNR proposes a nearly year-long season to trap a limited number of the reptiles which conservationists say are threatened with possible extinction.  

New rules outlining the season were under discussion at the Iowa Administrative Rules Review Committee.

Conservationists say the proposed season is too long.

Joyce Russell/IPR

State lawmakers will have the tough job of cutting this year’s state budget when they convene in January, after new projections Monday from the Iowa Revenue Estimating Conference. 

The REC predicts that tax receipts will grow by 4.2 percent in the current fiscal year that ends June 30.

That’s $96 million less than earlier estimates.    

Department of Management Director Dave Roederer says to accommodate the shortfall, the governor will be recommending how to cut this year’s budget by roughly $100 million.

Pages