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.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Taxes are getting a lot of attention at the statehouse and there were a few controversial bills that fell by the wayside last week and some that are moving forward. IPR's Joyce Russell reports on the week at the capitol. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill to protect doctors who do not provide patients with diagnostic information that could prompt some to seek an abortion has advanced in the Iowa House.

House Republicans are focusing on the so-called wrongful birth bill as a pro-life initiative this year. 

“It’s something the caucus would like to address,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer.  

Under the bill, a woman would not be able to sue a doctor for withholding information about fetal abnormalities.  

Cannon Air Force Base

Consolidated rural school districts that require long bus rides for students would get help with transportation costs under a bill that cleared the Republican-dominated House Education Committee at the statehouse Wednesday.

Transportation costs per student vary from $100 in urban districts to $900 or more in districts that cover large geographic areas.

Under the bill, the state would spend $11.2 million next year to buy down per-pupil busing costs so no district pays more than $432 per student.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill to divert public school funds to private schools received an emotional hearing at the statehouse Tuesday. 

Under the so-called school choice bill, the state would take most of the money that would normally cover one student’s education in a public school and give it to a family to cover private school tuition instead, up to $5,000.  

Advocates for private schools, including religious schools, lined up in favor of the bill.

Joyce Russell/IPR

As Iowa lawmakers consider legislation to outlaw so-called sanctuary cities, Governor Kim Reynolds is using the issue in a fundraising appeal.   

In a fundraising letter to supporters,  the Reynolds re-election campaign warns that Des Moines and Iowa City are moving in the direction of becoming sanctuaries to protect undocumented immigrants. 

She asks supporters to join the effort to ban sanctuaries, and stand with her for the rule of law.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A so-called religious freedom bill advanced in the Republican-controlled Iowa Senate Monday, in spite of vigorous objections from major business groups.   

The bill would give Iowans more legal protection if they deny services to gay and lesbian people for religious reasons.   

John Pemble / IPR

Opioid use is a growing problem across the country, and Iowa is no exception. During this hour of River to River, we’ll hear about legislation being considered at the statehouse to curb issues created by the use of opioids in Iowa. 

Iowa Public Radio's Joyce Russell, Republican State Senator Dan Dawson, Republican State Representative Shannon Lundgren, Republican State Representative Dave Heaton, and Democratic State Representative Chuck Isenhart all join the conversation. 

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John Pemble/IPR file photo

The Iowa legislature seemed to get a lot of stuff done last week. There was a lot of debate over education funding and we appear to have an idea of what to expect in the coming school year. Morning Edition Host Clay Masters checks in with IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell 

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There was bitter debate in the legislature Wednesday over how much money the state can afford to spend on K-12 schools next year. 

The  GOP-controlled House and Senate tentatively agreed to raise per-pupil spending by 1 percent for all districts,  which  was sharply opposed by minority Democrats.  

Rep. Phil Miller is a Democrat from Fairfield.    Last year at this time, as school board president, he was  overseeing a $900,000 budget cut.

“Two years ago we cut  $550,000, and three years ago it was $330,000,” Miller said. “Those were  all painful events.”

Dave and Buster's/flickr

Games of skill played in retail establishments for non-cash prizes would be expanded under proposed legislation at the statehouse, but some Iowa casinos are lining up to oppose the bill. 

Establishments such as  Chuck E. Cheese and Fun City reward winners of skill-based games with non-cash prizes or coupons valued up to $100.

The bill would raise the limit to $950 to accommodate a restaurant and arcade chain known as Dave and Buster’s that wants to expand into Iowa.

John Pemble / IPR

Education funding for Iowa’s public K-12 system takes center stage at the capitol this week. Lawmakers are off Monday for the Iowa mid-term caucuses. IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell has her eye on some other issues.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A debate on a bill to reinstate the death penalty for first degree murder in Iowa took an unexpected turn at the statehouse Thursday.

The legislator who agreed to manage the bill has concluded he can’t support it, and the bill will not advance in the Iowa House.     

As a death penalty supporter, Rep. Steven Holt (R-Denison) agreed to head a subcommittee for House Study Bill 569.

John Pemble/IPR

A limited exception to Iowa’s law making it a felony to carry firearms onto school property has cleared an initial hurdle at the statehouse, with the backing of the Iowa Firearms Coalition.

Under the bill, a gun owner with a permit to carry can remain armed while driving onto school property for the sole purpose of transporting a student, but without entering the school building.

The bill cleared a three-member bipartisan panel and will now be considered by the full Senate Judiciary Committee.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Gov. Kim Reynolds today signed her first bill into law as the state’s chief executive, approving water quality legislation while surrounded in her formal office by supporters from inside and outside the legislature.   

Senate File 512 appropriates $282 million over the next 12 years to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus flowing into Iowa waterways.     

It’s designed to help the state meet the goals of its Nutrient Reduction Strategy to reduce nutrients in the water by 45 percent.

Reynolds said good work is already being done on the farm.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Opponents of a bill backers say would outlaw so-called sanctuary cities in Iowa filled a committee room to overflowing at the statehouse today.

The bill would deny state funds to any community that approves policies to prevent local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. Under the bill, communities would be required to detain a jailed person for possible deportation at the request of federal officials. 

John Pemble / IPR

The first month of the 2018 legislative session comes to a close this week. Here are a few takeaways from IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell:

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As large consolidated rural school districts struggle with soaring transportation costs, a bill advanced in the Iowa Senate that could reduce costs for some districts.  

Under current Iowa law, one-way bus rides are limited to 60 minutes for elementary students and 75 minutes for secondary students.    

The bill would allow 75 minute one-way bus rides for elementary students, or even longer rides for students of any age if public hearings are held and parents are notified 30 days before a route is changed.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Majority Republicans in the Iowa Senate Thursday unveiled proposed budget cuts for the fiscal year that ends in June, trimming higher education and the courts more than Gov. Reynolds recommended.   

The proposal has led a Regents university spokesman and a state court administrator to warn of significant consequences if the cuts become law.

John Pemble/IPR

Advocates for and against gun rights spoke out at the Capitol today on a proposed amendment to the Iowa constitution.   

The amendment states that Iowans’ rights to acquire, keep, possess, transport, carry, transfer, and use arms for all legitimate purposes shall not be infringed, and that courts should strictly scrutinize any attempt to regulate them.    

Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley) said the amendment backs up second amendment rights already secured by the U.S. Constitution

John Pemble/IPR

The state’s largest agriculture organization, the Iowa Farm Bureau, came in for bitter criticism in the Iowa Senate, one day after a Farm Bureau-backed water quality bill gained final passage in the Iowa House.   

Iowa is under pressure to reduce nitrates and phosphorus in waterways by 45 percent.

The bill, which awaits the governor’s signature, spends $282 million over the next 12 years, or about $27 million a year, to meet Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

But some experts put the cost of cleaning nutrients out of the water at $4 billion.

Joyce Russell/IPR

For the third year in a row, the Iowa House Tuesday morning took up water quality legislation, and by noon a bill finally passed on a mostly partisan vote.   

The legislation, which is now on its way to the governor, spends millions of dollars on water quality improvement projects over the next decade.       

But the final version pitted farm groups against environmentalists and there was bitter debate.  

John Pemble/IPR

As a state lawmaker steps down from a key legislative post after a drunk driving arrest, he’s getting sympathy from the top elected official in the state, Gov. Kim Reynolds.   

Rep. Chip Baltimore (R-Boone) was arrested on Friday.  He says he plans to plead guilty to drunk driving and possessing a weapon while intoxicated.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer Monday removed Baltimore from his post as chair of the Judiciary Committee. 

State Capitol Ceiling
John Pemble / IPR

Iowa legislators have said that addressing the state's water quality is a priority.  During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Mary Skopec, who is executive director of Iowa's Lakeside Laboratory. She says that the problem with nutrient run-off from the state's 29 million acres of agricultural land is not the only issue to be addressed—it is a part of the problem. 

While lawmakers in Washington DC are negotiating to reopen. Lawmakers in Iowa are still open for business. Here are a few issues to expect in the week ahead from IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The head of the Iowa Department of Human Services took tough questions yesterday at the statehouse about a report commissioned following the deaths of two young Iowans who were adopted out of foster care.   An outside agency looked at Iowa’s foster care system and at the caseloads for DHS social workers.   Director Jerry Foxhoven said the problems won’t be solved overnight.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill to ease the penalties for first-time possession of small amounts of marijuana cleared a Republican-dominated panel at the statehouse Thursday.  GOP lawmakers stressed that marijuana would still be illegal, but possessing five grams or less would be a simple misdemeanor instead of a serious misdemeanor.  Urbandale Republican Brad Zaun says youthful indiscretion is penalized too harshly under the current law:

John Pemble/IPR

The head of the Iowa Department of Human Services Wednesday admitted problems with Iowa’s new family planning program that takes the place of Planned Parenthood clinics around the state.      

After lawmakers said no state money should go to clinics that perform abortions, the state is redirecting funds to other clinics for subsidized birth control.      

Director Jerry Foxhoven took questions about the program in an appearance before the Senate Human Resources Committee.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

A coalition of more than two dozen state, local, and national organizations rallied at the statehouse today against the proliferation of large hog confinement operations known as CAFOs, which they say have diminished the quality of life in the Iowa countryside.   

The Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture is calling for a moratorium on new large hog operations until fewer than 100 Iowa waterways remain impaired.   

It’s one of a package of 15 bills offered by Senator David Johnson (I-Ocheyedan) to strengthen regulation of hog farms.

Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio

Lawmakers return to the capitol Tuesday after the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The 2018 session started last week. Here are takeaways from IPR’s Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell says going into week two.

Joyce Russell/IPR

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Grassley  (R-New Hartford) is warning about competition from a proposed new Indian-run casino in Carter Lake in southwest Iowa.  

At a statehouse budget briefing, Grassley said if the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska proceeds with its plans, the new casino would draw gamblers away from the three state-regulated casinos in Council Bluffs.  

Those include Ameristar, Harrah’s and Horseshoe.   

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