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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After more than two hours of contentious debate, the Iowa Senate has voted to eliminate state funding for health care facilities which provide abortion.    Planned Parenthood is the biggest target of the bill, and its supporters in the Senate waged a vigorous fight.    Republican lawmakers say they have an anti-abortion mandate from Iowa voters.     

The bill throws out the $3 million family planning program which served 12,000 Iowans on Medicaid last year. 

Most of that was federal money.

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Democrats and Republicans squared off in the Iowa House today over public financing of campaigns, as a GOP bill was approved to eliminate a limited form of the practice in Iowa. 

On a party line vote, the House Ways and Means Committee passed a bill to get rid of the checkoff on Iowa income tax forms that allows a contribution to the Republican or Democratic party or to a campaign fund that is then distributed to the major parties.

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A bill pitting labor against industry passed the Iowa Senate by a vote of 35 to 15, potentially clearing the way for employers to have a new option for drug-testing in the workplace.    

The bill adds hair samples to the list of specimens to test.

Currently the law allows tests on urine, saliva, breath, and blood.    

Senator Michael Breitbach (R-Strawberry Point), a small business owner,  said it’s a matter of workplace safety.

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Piercing your ears would be exempt, but advancing to the nose or lips or beyond should require parental consent. 

That’s according to a bill considered at the Iowa Statehouse today.  

Backers say the measure would bring body piercing into better alignment with tattooing, which is banned altogether in Iowa for people under age 18, with or without parental consent.   

Daniel Zeno with the ACLU of Iowa says freedom of expression is at stake.

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Democrats in the Iowa Senate delayed action for six hours yesterday on a bill setting basic state school aid for next year, trying to stop what they say will severely underfund K-12 education.

Republicans in the House and Senate propose just over one-percent increase for schools.  

School officials have said they need at least four percent to avoid larger class sizes or layoffs.

The bill is on the fast track, clearing committees in both chambers yesterday, and now headed for votes in the House and Senate as early as this week.  

Branstad Supports Trump Travel Ban

Jan 30, 2017
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Iowa's top elected officials are reacting to President Trump's executive order that restricts travel into the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries and puts refugee programs on hold.

Governor Terry Branstad supports the ban.   

At his weekly news conference, he said he is not going to second guess how the policy is being implemented.

John Pemble / IPR

A lot of action happened last week at the statehouse and it shows no sign of slowing down. Here’s what to expect going into the week.

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The head of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy briefed state lawmakers this week on changes in the curriculum for officers in training at the school.   

Director Judy Bradshaw says they’re trying to bring students up to speed on a growing form of credit card fraud.

Thieves are installing more and more illegal card-readers known as skimmers on gas pumps and ATM’s.   

The devices copy the information from your credit card, which can then be turned into a clone of your card.

Skimmers can be purchased on the internet for less than $20.   

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A bill introduced in the Iowa Senate aims to block federal funding to Planned Parenthood and other Iowa agencies that, among other medical services, also provide abortions.

Note: Planned Parenthood currently receives a federal-state match of Medicaid dollars. While the funding goes towards family planning services only and does not fund abortion procedures, Planned Parenthood does provide abortions.

By discontinuing  the Medicaid Family Planning Network waiver, Iowa would lose about $3 million in Medicaid funding for family planning services.

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Iowa’s Judicial Branch is the first division of state government to announce a mandatory furlough as a  result of budget cuts for the fiscal  year that ends in June.   

Court offices will close for one day and employees will take unpaid leave.  

Governor Branstad recommended a more than $7 million cut to the judicial branch.   Lawmakers scaled that back to $3 million.  

In a memo to court employees, state court administrator David Boyd unveiled how courts would absorb the cut.  

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.  

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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.     

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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

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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.

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