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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Michael Leland / IPR

More bills have reached deadlines for continuing in the Iowa legislature. IPR’s Morning Edition Host Clay Masters got the latest from Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell on what to expect going into the week of March 14 at the statehouse.

Joyce Russell/IPR

African-American activists cheered as Governor Branstad today signed into law one of the legislative priorities of the NAACP.    

The bill will keep court records confidential in most juvenile cases.  

The bill came out of the Governor’s Working Group on Justice Policy Reform.

Activists argue that black juvenile offenders are most affected because of their disproportionate  numbers in the courts.   

Iowa Senate Video Archive

On a mostly party-line vote, the Iowa Senate has approved a bill to add transgender individuals to those protected by Iowa’s hate crimes statute. 

The vote on Tuesday came after the killing last week of a teenager in Burlington.

Sixteen-year-old Kedarie Johnson was shot to death last Wednesday.   The student’s body was later discovered in an alley.

State Senator Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines) says Johnson was transitioning from female to male.

Todd Lappin/flickr

A shortage of mental health physicians could be alleviated under a program Governor Branstad announced today.

Iowa ranks 41st in the nation in the number of practicing psychiatrists.   So the state will spend $4 million for new psychiatric residency programs at three Des Moines medical centers, Broadlawns, UnityPoint Health, and Mercy Hospital.  

Branstad says Iowa educates a lot of doctors at U of I and at Des Moines University.

“But if they go and do their residency out of state, they tend to get job offers there and they don’t come back," Branstad said.     

Governor Branstad today praised the political instincts of former first lady Nancy Reagan who died this weekend at the age of 94.    

Branstad recalled the 1980 Iowa caucus campaign when Ronald Reagan lost to George H.W. Bush.    Branstad says the campaign chairman was fired after ignoring Branstad’s advice, and Nancy Reagan played a role in that.

“She had a good political antenna,” Branstad said.  “She wasn't afraid to whisper in the president’s ear if there were changes that should be made or she felt were not being loyal to the president.”

John Pemble / IPR

Iowa Public Radio’s Clay Masters spoke with Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell. Here’s what she told him:

1. Kids likely won’t be allowed to handle guns. Iowa got a lot of national attention for a bill in the Iowa House that would allow children, 14 and younger, to handle a gun under parental supervision. “I would say there’s virtually no way this would pass the senate,” IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell said. The gun bill that could pass both chambers is one to legalize gun suppressors.

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Iowa school districts will not be required to offer at least one high school computer science class under a bill that was scaled back in the Iowa House this week. 

The bill instead creates an advisory committee to make recommendations in time for the 2018-2019 school year. 

The committee will address whether schools should include a unit on coding for seventh and eighth graders.  

They’ll also consider whether students should be able to take a computer class to meet a school’s math requirement, and how many new teachers would be required.    

Photo by Sack Pephirom

Thousands of crows are befouling pathways and windows at the Iowa Capitol, and officials who oversee the capitol grounds have called in outside help.    

Janet Phipps at the Iowa Department of Administrative Services says the problem is not new, but it is worse this year than in past years.

Phipps says the USDA Wildlife Service has helped downtown Des Moines get rid of its black birds, and they’ve roosted at the capitol instead.

“USDA assists in that so we are in touch with USDA about chasing them somewhere else,” Phipps said.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

For the first time in Iowa history, a Republican lawmaker introduced a medical marijuana bill in the statehouse. Peter Cownie, a Republican from Des Moines, introduced House Study Bill 607, now House File 2384, which would allow for the manufacture and distribution of cannabis oil in Iowa. The bill originally had ten conditions but the version that passed the Commerce Committee included only three--epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and terminal cancer.

Geoffrey Fairchild/flickr

A gun rights bill that passed the Iowa House is running into opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate.   

Democrats want gunowners to demonstrate proficiency before acquiring or renewing a permit to carry a concealed weapon.   

By a wide margin, the House last month approved a bill that makes it easier for some gunowners to renew their permits, and protects the confidentiality of permit holders.  

State Center Democrat Steve Sodders says for Democrats to sign on to that, they’ll insist on some basic training with a gun.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

The Iowa Senate has voted unanimously to punish violations of the state’s competitive bidding laws, after complaints over how for-profit companies won the contracts for privatizing the state’s Medicaid program. Interested parties reportedly communicated with state employees while their bids were under consideration, what should have been a blackout period to maintain objectivity.    Des Moines Democrat Janet Peterson says there should be consequences when people don’t follow the blackout rule.

Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad Monday praised the timing of a high-profile endorsement for leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, but he didn’t say whether or not he agreed with the endorsement itself.   

New Jersey Governor and former candidate Chris Christie on Friday threw his support behind Trump.   

Governor Branstad says that shifted media attention away from Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

“I think it was a brilliant move and it obviously changed the coverage, so it was strategically a good move,” Branstad says.     

wintersoul1/flickr

Lifetime handicapped parking permits would become a thing of the past if a bill in the Iowa Senate becomes law.

Lawmakers say some drivers may be acquiring permits from other family members, and using them to take up parking spaces reserved for drivers with real disabilities. 

Statehouse lobbyist Brian Johnson has a permanent disability.  

He believes some drivers are using permits passed down to them from parents or grandparents.

Russell/IPR

After a vigorous debate, a state board today voted not to try to recover nearly half-a-million dollars in unemployment benefits that mistakenly went out to workers two years ago because of a technical malfunction at Iowa Workforce Development  

The former director of the state agency that distributes unemployment benefits came under harsh criticism today at a meeting of the board of directors for IWD.

Valdosta-Lowndes MPO/flickr

Vehicles overtaking bicyclists on roadways without bike lanes would have to give the cyclists plenty of room under a bill that passed the Iowa Senate today.    

Under the bill, the car or truck would have to get completely over in the adjoining lane to pass, just as they do while passing any other vehicle. 

Lawmakers told stories of fatal or near-fatal accidents on county roadways. 

Waterloo Democrat Bill Dotzler described harrowing experiences on a bicycle in rural Butler County.

John Pemble/IPR

After months of discussion, out of state for-profit companies now have the go-ahead to take over Iowa’s Medicaid program for the poor and disabled on April 1st.  

The Branstad administration Tuesday received word of approval from the federal government though the date was once again delayed.  

In December, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services delayed implementation from January 1st to March 1st, stating that key requirements on 16 action items were not met, including adequate provider networks to serve Iowa’s more than 500,000  Medicaid patients. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

With broad bipartisan support, the Iowa House today passed a series of gun rights bills, which were sharply opposed by some minority Democrats.  

The bills now go to the Senate and an uncertain future.   

The sharpest opposition came on a bill to allow children under 14 to handle handguns under a parent’s supervision. 

There would be no age limit under the bill. Cedar Rapids Democrat Kirsten Running-Marquardt asked what kind of gun would fit into the hands of a two or three year old.

John Pemble

The number of heroin overdose deaths in Iowa has increased six-fold from 2007 to 2013.

Kim Brown, of Davenport, lost her son Andy Lamp to a heroin overdose in 2011, and she now advocates for greater access to Naloxone, a common overdose reversal drug, as well as a “Good Samaritan” law, which is intended to protect those who report an overdose from arrest or prosecution. She believes that passing these laws in Iowa could prevent future deaths from heroin overdose.

USDA

A Republican lawmaker in the Iowa House who works in environmental protection in his day job has a new plan for paying for water quality, but his fellow Republicans have nixed the idea.  

Water quality is on the agenda at the statehouse this year because of a proposal from Governor Branstad to use some school funds to clean up Iowa waterways.

Representative John Wills of Spirit Lake works for the Soil and Water Conservation District in Dickinson County.  

John Clare/flickr

Conservationists in the Iowa House have advanced a bipartisan bill to limit hunting of potentially threatened Iowa wildlife.    

The bill would create a hunting season and bag limits for the commercial harvest of turtles, which has increased in Iowa as other states have cracked down.  

Ackworth Democrat Scott Ourth says there’s demand for several species of turtles in Tama, Johnson, and other counties.

Russell/IPR

Republicans in the Iowa House have amended a bill to legalize the production and distribution of marijuana in the state. 

In its more limited form, it cleared two Republican panels and is now eligible for debate in the full House. 

To improve its chances, the revised bill covers fewer conditions with fewer places to buy the cannabis.   Altoona Republican Zach Nunn praised those who came up with the compromise.

“To able to focus it in a way that it can be meaningful and face a reality of moving it forward in both chambers,” Nunn said.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Democrats in the Iowa House today banded together to try to take down Governor Branstad’s bill to use  some future school infrastructure funds for water quality instead.  

But Republicans prevailed and the bill remains eligible for debate.  

Years ago, county by county, voters agreed to pay an extra penny of sales tax for school infrastructure.  That tax is about to expire.   Governor Branstad wants to extend it and use some of the growth for water quality.    

Riverside Democrat Sally Stutsman says taking the money away from schools reneges on a promise to voters.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill advanced in the Iowa House today to determine how many untested rape kits may be languishing in storage in Iowa police departments. 

Nationwide, authorities are discovering thousands of untested kits, which include bodily fluids and other evidence collected after a victim reports an assault. 

With the help of a federal grant, the attorney general’s crime victim division will survey all law enforcement agencies, and then make strategic choices on how many kits should be tested now.

John Pemble/IPR

With little debate, a committee in the Republican-controlled Iowa house today nearly unanimously approved a new tax credit for gun owners, with backers saying it will increase gun safety in the state.  

Under the bill, the tax break would be granted for the purchase of a gun safe for personal use from a qualified retailer.   

Des Moines Democrat Rick Olson says the tax credit is not justified.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill advanced at the statehouse today to regulate new app-based transportation companies.    

Companies including Uber and Lyft use mobile apps for drivers to find fares and for passengers to arrange rides.   The companies currently operate in Des Moines, Ames, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport.

Mount Auburn Republican Dawn Pettengill says the bill spells out insurance requirements for the benefit of both drivers and passengers.

“I think they will feel safer than what we have now,” Pettengill says.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Some third graders who can’t read at grade level would get help this summer under a pilot project the Branstad administration announced today.  

The project will help prepare the state for next year, when struggling students will attend summer school, or be required to repeat third grade.    

It’s part of a compromise struck in 2012.     Some GOP lawmakers wanted to keep back all third graders  not reading at grade level.     The compromise instead requires summer school if a student wants to advance to fourth grade.  

John Pemble / IPR

As Iowa lawmakers dash to get bills out of committee in either the House or Senate, IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell has her eye on a few big questions this week: 

1. Can medical marijuana backers get a bill out of committee?

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The director of an embattled state agency took questions this week from statehouse Democrats over nearly one million dollars in improper payments of unemployment benefits.     

State Auditor Mary Mosiman reports that Iowa Workforce Development sent benefits to applicants who claimed to work for companies that didn’t exist.

In addition, legitimate recipients received 700,000 dollars in overpayments.  

Waterloo Democrat Bill Dotzler says some workers came forward and reported that there had been a mistake.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The presidents of Iowa’s three regents universities today made their annual trip to the state capitol, imploring lawmakers to increase funding for the universities by over $20 million. 

That far exceeds the governor’s recommendation.     

Governor Branstad’s budget includes $8 million to be shared among the three universities.  

President Steven Leath seeks more than $8 million for ISU alone.

He says state funding has fallen, while enrollment has soared.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The president of the Iowa Board of Regents says he’s disappointed that his choice among the field of Republican candidates for president has pulled out of the race.   

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie suspended his campaign after a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.  

President Bruce Rastetter says Christie was drowned out by the anti-Washington message of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

“Obviously I was disappointed,” Rastetter says.  “He's a terrific guy, would have made a great president.”

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