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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Students from Iowa State University were at the Capitol Thursday lobbying for a bill they believe will save the lives of underage drinkers on college campuses.  

The bill is designed to get young people to seek help when someone is incapacitated from too much alcohol.       

ISU Student Body President Cole Staudt recalls returning home with a drunken friend who was borderline unresponsive.

“I thought to myself, probably he should see someone, but I'm 19 years old,” Staudt recalls.  “If I get in  trouble with the law my world is over.”

Joyce Russell/IPR

Three nominees for the Iowa Board of Regents faced questioning from the Iowa Senate Education Committee, as Senators mull whether to confirm Governor Branstad’s choices for six-year terms on the board.

The nominees are former Republican State Senator Nancy Boettger of Harlan and former Democratic State Representative Nancy Dunkel of Dyersville.

Branstad reappointed Regent Sherry Bates, who has served only a partial term on the board.

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The Ethics Committee in the Iowa House Wednesday voted unanimously to reprimand Drew Klein with the Koch Brothers-funded group Americans for Prosperity for failing to register as a lobbyist on controversial legislation earlier this session.   

The bill dramatically scaled back collective bargaining rights for Iowa public employees.  

Iowa Federation of Labor president Ken Sagar filed the complaint alleging Klein lobbied aggressively for the collective bargaining bill without registering his support for the bill as required by House ethics rules.  

John Pemble/IPR

Republican lawmakers in the Iowa House have begun a second attempt to ban abortion in the state after the 20th week of pregnancy.     

The GOP caucus in the House is strongly anti-abortion, but there are divisions about how far an abortion restriction should go.   

Earlier the House Human Resources committee failed to pass the 20-week ban.   

Many members had wanted to go further and outlaw abortion altogether.   

Now a 20-week ban has come over from the Senate, with an exception for fetal anomalies.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad and First Lady Chris Branstad will not be leaving their entire family behind when they move to Beijing for Branstad to serve as U.S. Ambassador to China.    

Speaking in Des Moines Tuesday,  Branstad said his daughter Allison and her family will also be moving to Beijing.  

“My daughter has interviewed for a teaching job in China via Skype,” Branstad said.    “She got an offer from the Beijing International School.”

Costa accepted the offer to teach 3rd grade.

Governor Branstad Tuesday reminisced about the history of home-schooling in Iowa, in an address to homeschool families in town for their annual Day at the Capitol.  

Branstad told a crowd of about 300 parents and children that Iowa is known for its supportive environment for home schools.   

He recalls the 1991 legislation to legalize homeschooling in Iowa:

Joyce Russell/IPR

A Republican-sponsored committee at the statehouse Monday got an earful from Iowa businesses and individuals who might be affected if the GOP succeeds in scaling back hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks.   

Both parties agree tax credits are one of the fasting-growing pieces of the state budget.  

The cost of one list of credits approaches half a billion  dollars, ranging from incentives for businesses to attract new jobs, to tax breaks for families who adopt kids, to credits for contributions to private school tuition.

John Pemble/IPR

Thursday, the Iowa House of Representatives passed a bill to scale back workers' compensation benefits in Iowa along party lines. A similar bill is now under consideration in the Iowa Senate. During this hour of River to River, host Joyce Russell talks with lawmakers about whether or not Iowa’s workers' compensation system is really being abused, and what lawmakers plan to do about it. 

State Representative Andy McKean from Anamosa (R) and State Senator Nate Boulton (D) join the conversation, as well as Richard Lesline, who is now disabled after a shoulder injury.

Problem gamblers would have a new option for keeping themselves out of Iowa casinos under legislation that passed the Iowa Senate last week.  

Currently, gamblers can voluntarily ban themselves from casinos for life.  

Under the bill, a problem gambler who earlier agreed to a lifetime ban could get back onto the gaming floor once five years have passed.    The gambler would then be subject to a renewable ban every five years.

John Pemble/IPR

There was bad economic news from the statehouse today and budget writers are making plans to adjust.

A panel of economic experts revised downward their projections of growth in state tax receipts for the fiscal year that ends in June.  

They estimate growth of less than 3%, while the budget was based on expected growth of nearly four-and-a-half percent.   

Holly Lyons with the Revenue Estimating Conference stresses the state is not heading into a recession.

Joey Gannon/flickr

After bitter partisan debate, the Iowa House last night approved a bill to change the rules for Iowa workers filing asbestos-related lawsuits.   

Critics say workers exposed to the cancer-causing substance could be harmed by the bill.   

But backers say meritless cases are clogging up the courts.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey says the state’s poultry producers are reviewing their biosecurity measures now that new cases of avian flu have been reported in other states.   

The disease caused millions of dollars in losses in Iowa in 2015, with the destruction of as many as 31 million birds.  

“We have seen this new case in Tennessee, and a couple low-pathogenic cases in Tennessee and Wisconsin,” Northey said.     “I'm sure everybody's checking their biosecurity plans again.”

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad today condemned anti-immigrant comments that appeared in a weekend tweet from Republican 4th District Representative Steve King.   

King wrote in support of anti-immigration Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders who wants to ban the Quran in the Netherlands and shut down mosques.   

“Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny,” King tweeted.   “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else's babies.”

Kay Henderson/Radio Iowa

After lengthy and sometimes emotional debate, the Iowa House last night approved a wide-ranging gun rights bill and sent it over to the Senate for their consideration. 

Republicans argued it restores Iowans’ Second Amendment rights that have long been denied.   Democrats called it dangerous and predicted more gun violence if it becomes law.  

It was an exciting day for Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley).

Joyce Russell/IPR

Opponents of a bill banning a higher minimum wage which is working its way through the Iowa House far outnumbered supporters at a public hearing at the statehouse last night.    

The bill would rescind minimum wages approved in Polk, Linn, Johnson, and Wapello Counties that are higher than the statewide wage of $7.25 an hour. 

Low-income Iowans and their advocates, religious groups, child advocacy groups, and students all spoke out against the bill and in favor of a higher minimum wage.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The state of Iowa will receive a multi-million dollar windfall as part of a $15 billion  settlement with German carmaker Volkswagen over its emissions cheating scandal.   

Iowa’s $21 million share must be spent on projects to reduce toxic emissions into the Iowa environment.  

A federal judge approved the settlement between Volkswagen and state and federal governments last year.  

The carmaker sold nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles with model years 2009 to 2016 equipped with so-called defeat devices to get around emissions standards.  

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Iowa lawmakers are quickly moving several high profile bills to Governor Terry Branstad's desk. During this hour of River to River, Iowa Public Radio’s Dean Borg talks with statehouse reporters about what’s happened so far this session and the live wire politics surrounding what still remains.

Iowa Public Radio’s Joyce Russell, James Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Bill Petroski of the Des Moines Register, and Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa join the conversation. 

John Pemble / IPR

Bills in the Iowa legislature that did not meet a self-imposed deadline last week are now dead. That means action likely won’t be taken on bills dealing with the death penalty and a medical marijuana program. “There’s no surprise that some of the top GOP priorities are very much alive and moving forward,” says IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell. Here’s some of the highlights moving forward.

John Pemble/IPR

Racial profiling by Iowa law enforcement officers was the subject of a hearing at the statehouse this week though time ran out for a bill to address the issue. 

Instead, senators will request an interim committee to study how to outlaw taking someone’s race into account when a traffic stop is made.  

Banning racial profiling is a top priority of the NAACP.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill advanced at the statehouse Thursday to outlaw the so-called sanctuary policies Iowa communities may adopt that could protect undocumented immigrants.   

Advocates for immigrants crowded into a committee room to oppose the bill.

The bill makes it illegal to adopt a policy that discourages enforcement of federal immigration laws.  

Under a Des Moines Public School resolution, immigration officials would not have access to students except through the superintendent.  

Alex Proimos/flickr

Governor Branstad’s goal to open up more competition in the health care industry ran into some serious trouble at the statehouse Wednesday.   

A bill to clear the way for more for-profit health care facilities failed to clear a Republican-dominated panel.   

The governor wanted to do away with the state’s Certificate of Need program that requires new health care facilities to prove there’s a need for their services.  

John Pemble/IPR file photo

A bill to stiffen penalties for protesters who block Iowa roadways advanced in the Iowa Senate Tuesday, a reaction to an incident along Interstate 80 in Iowa City last November.     

Roughly 100 protesters shut down the eastbound lanes for about half an hour, objecting to the election of Donald Trump.  

The bill would increase penalties for blocking a roadway where the speed limit is 55 miles per hour or higher.  

Free speech advocates objected to the bill.

Momento Mori/flickr

A bill to lower the penalties for first-time possession of small amounts of marijuana cleared a Republican-dominated panel in the Iowa Senate Tuesday.   

The same bill passed the Senate with broad bipartisan support when Democrats were in control two years ago, but it was not considered in the Republican-controlled House.     

The bill’s sponsor says he is serious about getting it passed again under the new Republican majority.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

The Mayor of Pleasant Hill was at the statehouse Monday arguing against a wide-ranging gun rights bill backed by the National Rifle Association and making its way through the Iowa House.  

After an outcry from the public, the bill’s sponsor has removed some controversial provisions, but there’s still plenty in the legislation to concern gun safety advocates.

Pleasant Hill Mayor Sara Kurovski is a registered Republican who holds a permit to carry a weapon.  

Paul Weaver / Flickr

Republican lawmaker Rep. Matt Windschitl of Missouri Valley is pushing comprehensive changes to Iowa's firearms law this year. 

Specifically, House Study Bill 133 seeks to add "stand your ground" provisions, institute lifetime permits to carry, allow children under 14 years of age to use handguns under adult supervision, and preempt local ordinances that restrict firearms use or declare themselves “gun-free zones."

John Pemble / IPR

The self-imposed deadline for lawmakers to get bills out of committee known as “funnel week” is now upon the Iowa legislature.  Here’s what to know going into this important step at the capitol this week, according to IPR’s Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell.

ep_jhu/flickr

Iowa’s laws on drug-endangered children would be updated to address the state’s opioid epidemic under legislation the House and Senate are considering.  

Authorities say more kids are being affected by their caregivers’ abuse of painkillers.  

Currently, Iowa’s child protection policies focus heavily on methamphetamine, its manufacture, distribution, and use.    

John Pemble/IPR

News that scholarships will be rescinded for students at the University of Iowa because of state budget cuts sparked controversy  at the statehouse Thursday. 

Democrats are blaming Republicans for a bill that cut $8 million from the UI budget for this year.  

News came to UI families in a letter from President Bruce Herrald.

“This devastating cut has forced us to consider every expenditure,” Herrald said.    

Some 2500 students will  see their financial aid packages reduced  by an  average of more than $1700 for the school year that starts in the fall.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

African-Americans turned out for a hearing at the statehouse today on a wide-ranging gun rights bill they say will threaten their safety if it becomes law.   

The bill includes so-called stand-your-ground language, along with broad new rights for carrying weapons.  

Under stand-your-ground, a gunowner can fire if he believes himself to be in danger.  

Laurel Clinton from Des Moines says her three sons may look dangerous to some because they’re black.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Patients and their advocates made a return trip to the Iowa Capitol Wednesday, arguing once again for the legalization of medical marijuana in Iowa. 

A new bill is under consideration in the House to regulate the growing, manufacturing, and distribution  of cannabis oil.  

Earlier legislation is about to expire.   It allows epilepsy patients to travel out of state to acquire the drug, which has created numerous obstacles.  

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