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.

Iowa General Assembly Website

Advocates for public schools tried to stop a bill in the Iowa House today that may expand for-profit online education in the state.  

The bill lifts the cap on the number of school districts that can open-enroll students from all over the state, and then turn over the state per-pupil funding to for-profit companies for full-time online instruction.  

Currently, two Iowa school districts, CAM in southwest Iowa and Clayton Ridge in northeast Iowa, contract with for-profit companies for full-time online classes.      

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An effort to repeal Iowa’s nearly 40-year old bottle deposit law this year has apparently come to an end after action in the Iowa Senate.    

A bill backed by the Iowa Grocery Industry Association and the Iowa Beverage Association to replace the bottle law with a statewide recycling program did not clear a three-member panel.

The bill’s manager, Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull), announced an alternative effort to modernize the law instead.  

“We are not repealing the bottle bill,” Feenstra said.     

Joyce Russell/IPR

A school safety bill requiring all districts to be prepared for active shooters and other emergencies is making its way through the Iowa legislature, as lawmakers grapple with the tragedy of school shootings across the country.  

An eastern Iowa lawmaker was overcome with emotion during debate in the Iowa House. 

Nick Glenn / Flickr

bill making its way through the Iowa legislature directs local governments and police departments to comply with federal immigration authorities or risk losing state funding.

On this edition of River to River, legislative day co-hosts Ben Kieffer and Joyce Russell talk with lawmakers, law enforcement, an immigration advocate, and the mayor of Iowa City about their views on the proposal and how it may impact Iowa communities.

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Vladimir Kulikov / Wikimedia Commons

The Iowa House today approved cuts to the Regents universities that go beyond what the chamber had proposed earlier this year to address a state revenue shortfall in the fiscal year that ends June 30th.   To reach agreement with the Iowa Senate, the House voted to cut Regents funding by nearly $11 million, split between the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.   The universities will have to absorb that in the three months left in the fiscal year.  Democrats resisted but were unable to stop the cuts from being approved.  Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, questioned Pat Grassley, R-Cedar Fa

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A bill to repeal Iowa’s bottle deposit law and replace it with a statewide recycling program failed to clear a Republican-dominated three member panel in the Iowa House today.  

A separate House bill to expand the law by adding more containers is also dead for the year. But the Senate is still considering a total repeal.    

Rep. Guy Vander Linden (R-Oskaloosa) called today’s hearing even though he knew the bill to repeal the bottle deposit law did not have the support to advance.      

iowa capitol
John Pemble/IPR file photo

The Iowa Senate elected a new majority leader last week. Sen. Jack Whitver (R – Ankeny) took Bill Dix’s place after he abruptly resigned last week, following video of him appearing to kiss a female lobbyist in a bar surfaced online. While all this drama was going on, there was plenty of legislation moving forward as lawmakers worked to meet a self-imposed deadline for many priority bills. Here’s what IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell says to watch.

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Iowa’s nearly 30-year old energy efficiency program would continue, but would be scaled back significantly, under a compromise energy bill that advanced at the statehouse today.  

Since 1990, Iowans have paid into the program through a percentage of their monthly electricity or natural gas bills.   In turn, they have been eligible for millions of dollars in rebates, retrofits and other energy efficiency initiatives.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill favored by power companies and sharply opposed by consumer advocates and environmentalists advanced today in the Republican-controlled Iowa House.  

Critics warn of higher utility bills while backers say the bill is needed to modernize Iowa energy policy.

The bill scales back energy efficiency programs and changes the rules utilities follow before they build new plants and raise rates.     

Joyce Russell/IPR

Republicans in the Iowa Senate Wednesday chose Sen. Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny) as their new Majority Leader, the most powerful position in the Senate.  

Whitver succeeds Sen. Bill Dix, who resigned abruptly this week after compromising photos of him with a statehouse lobbyist appeared on the internet.   

The 28-member GOP caucus chose Whitver, an eight-year veteran of the Iowa Senate, by secret ballot in a closed door meeting two days after Dix resigned.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The Republican Chair of the Ethics Committee in the Iowa Senate says he is willing to look at new ethics rules after the departure of the top Senate Republican.  

But Sen. Jerry Behn (R-Boone) questioned whether lawmakers can dictate what kind of relationships legislators can have with lobbyists.

Majority Leader Bill Dix, who is married and the father of three children, resigned his leadership post and his Senate seat after photos surfaced of him appearing to kiss a lobbyist at a Des Moines bar.  

John Pemble/IPR file photo

UPDATE: 4:00 p.m.

The top Republican in the Iowa Senate, Bill Dix, has resigned his positions as Majority Leader and state Senator, hours after compromising photos of him appeared on the political website Iowa Starting Line.  

The photos showed Dix having drinks with and apparently kissing a female lobbyist at a Des Moines bar one evening earlier this month.  

Some were calling for Dix’s resignation last year after a court approved a $1.75 million sexual harassment settlement against Senate Republicans.  

John Pemble / IPR

State lawmakers are preparing for state agency budget cuts. On Friday, Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Revenue Estimating Conference has revised its estimate of tax receipts this year.

Latest revenue projects have a little bit of good news. The Revenue Estimating Conference meets periodically to estimate how much money in taxes will be collected. This time, members revised their estimate up compared to their estimate in December. “They have a little more money to spend this year,” Russell reports.

John Pemble/IPR

Iowans who are getting health insurance through the individual marketplace under the Affordable Care Act would have a new option under a bill that passed  by a large margin  in  the Iowa Senate last night.   

Under the bill, the Iowa Farm Bureau would offer what are being called barebones health plans not subject to the rules of the ACA,  including covering pre-existing conditions and other  mandates.

That would be allowed because the plans are not insurance policies. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Religious groups on Iowa’s university campuses would have more freedom to choose their leaders, under a GOP-sponsored bill that advanced in the Iowa House today.

Backers say the bill will address a conflict at the University of Iowa, where a student group lost its certification after denying a leadership post to a gay student.    

Rep. Sandy Salmon (R-Janesville) calls the university’s action outrageous. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Democrats  in  the Iowa House today  tried  to stop a bill they say will lower standards for Iowa teachers.  

Under the GOP-backed bill, graduates of Iowa teacher preparation programs would no longer be required to pass a standardized subject matter test to get a teaching license.   

Backers say the change is needed to address a teacher shortage.   

John Pemble/IPR

A key member of the Kim Reynolds administration faces a confirmation vote in the Iowa Senate, and at least one Democrat says it is not a done deal.   

Jerry Foxhoven has directed the Department of Human Services since June, while complaints have continued to pour in about Iowa’s new privatized Medicaid system, including denial of care for patients, and delayed payments to doctors and hospitals.      

At her weekly news conference, Gov. Reynolds said Foxhoven has done a great job in his short time in office.

John Pemble / IPR file

IPR's Morning Edition Host Clay Masters checks in with Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell to talk about what's happened in the legislature and what to expect in the week ahead. 

Joyce Russell/lPR

Round Two for Republican-sponsored tax cuts got underway at the statehouse today.   

Gov. Reynolds’ proposal to cut taxes by $1.7 billion over the next six years got its first airing in the Iowa House, one day after the Senate approved a bigger, faster plan.   

Senate Republicans call their bill “bold” to cut taxes by a billion dollars a year.  

The GOP is characterizing the governor’s plan as sustainable, practical, and pragmatic.    

The bill cuts personal income taxes by up to 23 percent. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Republicans in the Iowa Senate Wednesday night approved the largest tax cut package in Iowa history, approving a bill to reduce corporate and individual income taxes by as much as 30 percent. 

"Today is a monumental day for Iowa families and Iowa workers," said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull). “Today, we are taking a bold step in making Iowa’s economy more competitive."

Iowa’s top corporate tax rate of 12 percent, currently the highest in the country, would be reduced to 7 percent under the bill.

Joyce Russell/IPR

State lawmakers heard preliminary plans for a new statewide system for childhood mental health care Wednesday.  Advocates say currently there is no organized way to deliver care to kids to match the statewide program for adult mental health.   

A Department of Human Services working group studied the issue over the summer.  They’re recommending a new state board to set standards for children’s mental health care statewide.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill to address Iowa’s low ranking among states for services for the mentally ill was unanimously approved today by the Iowa House.    

The bill expands treatment options across the state to address crisis situations which fall short of the need for hospitalization.  

A bipartisan coalition of providers, patients, advocates, and law enforcement came up with the recommendations.   

Rep. Shannon Lundgren (R-Dubuque)  said mental health and substance abuse disorders have touched every Iowa family.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has said a major overhaul of the Iowa tax code is important to her this legislative session. The Senate has released its plan. IPR Morning Edition Host Clay Masters talks with Joyce Russell about what to expect this week at the capitol.

John Pemble/IPR

Republicans in the Iowa Senate Thursday put a tax cut bill on the fast track which would cost the state treasury a billion dollars a year.   Business groups are generally excited about making Iowa’s tax climate more competitive.   Democrats question how the state can afford the tax cuts without catastrophic effects on public services including education. 

Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull) has been dreaming about this tax cut bill for a long time.

Iowa General Assembly

By a vote of 33 to 16, the Iowa Senate Wednesday night approved a bill to crack down on protesters who cause disruption to critical infrastructure in the state.

The bill is backed by Energy Transfer, developer of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was damaged along its Iowa route by protesters opposing the project.

The pipeline was built to carry crude oil from North Dakota diagonally across 18 Iowa counties.

The bill creates a new offense of sabotage against critical infrastructure. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

One by one, the presidents of Iowa’s public universities gave severe warnings to lawmakers today about declining state support for higher education, and what it will mean for the institutions in the future.  

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld told the House Appropriations Committee that over the past 20 years, the state budget, the student body, and consumer price index have all grown, while state support for the U of I today is a few million dollars less than it was back then.  

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Iowa Senate Republicans are proposing a tax overhaul plan that it says would provide $1 billion a year in individual and corporate tax relief. 

It proposes lowering the top individual tax rate from 8.98 percent to 6.3 percent beginning in 2019.

“Working families in Iowa deserve big, bold tax relief,” said Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull).

The proposal, called the Iowa Working Families Tax Relief Act, also lowers the state’s corporate tax rate, which is currently 12 percent.

Iowa General Assembly

On a vote of 30 to 20, the Iowa Senate passed a bill to allow longer bus rides for schoolchildren in large rural districts struggling with transportation costs.  

Under the bill, both elementary and secondary students could ride up to 75 minutes one way. 

Longer bus rides would be allowed if public hearings are held and parents are notified 30 days before a route is changed.

Currently, younger children’s rides are limited to 60 minutes.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Advocates for schools, social services, and the courts turned out at the capitol today for a public hearing on mid-year budget cuts.   

Tax receipts have not met projections so lawmakers are negotiating how much to cut the Regents universities, human services, and most other areas of state government.  

A Senate bill would cut university funds for this academic year by $14 million.    That’s after this year’s budget was already reduced by $30 million.    

Iowa State University student Kody Olson is worried the cuts will result in higher tuition.

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Cory Doctorow

The Iowa Senate will take up a bill requiring all school districts to work with local law enforcement and emergency personnel to develop safety plans for an active shooter situation. The bill advanced out of committee the day after a deadly school shooting in Florida last week.

Manson Northwest Webster Community School District Superintendent Justin Daggett says his district has a protocol ready.

"It is something that we are trained and prepared for and we pray to God that we never have to do it," Daggett says.

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