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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Governor Branstad is asking the legislature for money to market Iowa’s Home Base Iowa program that provides incentives to attract retired military personnel to the state.      But budget-writers at the statehouse say in a tight budget year the new appropriation will be a heavy lift.   

At a statehouse news conference, Branstad announced that six more Iowa communities and schools have joined the program.

Photo by John Pemble

  

Legislators remain at odds over the main function of the Iowa General Assembly -- coming up with a state spending plan. For example, the two parties have been wrangling since January over how much state aid to forward to Iowa's public schools for the school year that begins in August

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The debate over a bill to strengthen Iowa’s school bullying law turned emotional at the statehouse Thursday.   

The Iowa Senate has passed a bill allowing schools to crack down on online bullying. But the House disagrees with a provision of the Senate bill that would let schools keep parents out of the loop if they judge that a child would be harmed if parents are informed of a bullying case.  

Lisa L. Wiedmeier/flickr

Iowa dog breeders would undergo new inspections and pay new fees to cover the cost, under a bill advancing in the Iowa Senate today by critics of so-called “puppy mills.”   Des Moines Democrat Matt McCoy says the United States Department of Agriculture is not keeping up with inspections of more than 200 Iowa breeders and more than 1,500 dogs.  He says nearly half of the operations the USDA inspects are cited for violations.

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Hundreds of union workers have been laid off at the giant Iowa Fertilizer plant in Lee County, and critics complain the company has hired a new non-union contractor to take their place with out-of-state employees.  

It’s a controversial project that the state spent millions of dollars in incentives to attract.  

Senator Tom Courtney (D-Burlington) says he’s been advised that the main subcontractor has been fired and the union workers let go.    

He says an ad in Texas shows a non-union contractor is recruiting replacement workers to come to Iowa through December.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Republicans and Democrats joined hands at the Capitol Tuesday arguing for landowner rights in the face of two large energy projects, the Bakken crude oil pipeline and the Rock Island Clean Line,  a proposed 500 mile electric transmission line.  

 Lawmakers say Iowa’s law is out of date when it comes to condemning land for big private projects.     

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Teachers, administrators, and students at Southeast Polk Schools Monday sang the praises of Iowa’s new Teacher Leadership and Compensation program, known as TLC.  

Teachers get paid more when they take on leadership roles to help other teachers.  

Madison  Fontana teaches second grade.   She’s in her second year of teaching and she says she’s getting more help this year :

“ It’s been a huge support system for new teachers,” Fontana says.   “We have someone to go to whether it be the instructional coaches or the model teachers.”

Photo by John Pemble/IPR

A Republican-dominated committee in the Iowa House has approved a controversial Board of Regents plan to give more money to state universities that attract more Iowa students.

It’s called performance-based funding.   

But the panel approved no money to soften the blow for the University of Iowa. 

Photo by John Pemble / IPR

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad is currently in his sixth term as governor. As the 2015 legislative session nears a close, he says that legislation on the gas tax and broadband access for rural communities are the biggest accomplishments of this session.

In this River to River interview, IPR statehouse correspondent Joyce Russell talks with the governor about his views on medical marijuana, granting felons voter rights, and how he plans to deal with the budget impasse.

John Pemble / IPR

    

Photo by John Pemble

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds is in Brazil this week.  

She’ll return on Saturday from a week-long trade mission to one of the state’s largest trading partners.     

Reynolds says Iowa and Brazil are both leaders in agriculture and agricultural equipment.

“The delegation is comprise of 15 individuals representing various Iowa industries,” Reynolds says, “and the mission will include two cities, Sao Paulo and Ribeirão Preto.”  

Travel will be paid by private donations to the Iowa Economic Development Authority Foundation.

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Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter says he’s still lobbying hard for a controversial plan to redistribute state funds to Iowa’s Regents Universities.   

The plan would appropriate money on the basis of how many Iowa students each university attracts, with more money going to University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University, and less to the University of Iowa.  

Neither the House nor the Senate education budget includes money for the proposal, but Rastetter says that’s not the final word.

Joyce Russell / IPR

Democrats in the Iowa Senate heard from employees and former employees at the state’s mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda on Wednesday, after the institutes continue to be targeted by Governor Branstad for closing.

Nurses and other staff say patients and their families are still calling and asking for placements, even though the institutions are not accepting new patients. Ann Davison is a nurse at Clarinda who still has her job, "We've received over 120 calls from across the state, from 66 of the 99 counties."

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A  transportation expert in the Iowa House warns Iowa's gas tax increase will fall short of meeting the state's transportation infrastructure needs.   

Burlington Democrat Dennis Cohoon says the Department of Transportation  estimates the state will need more than $215 million for road and bridge work.  The gas tax increase will bring in $204 million or less.

“Most of us are aware that this is not a long-term solution,” Cohoon says. “The revenue from the gas tax will diminish over time.” 

Cohoon says other ideas floated by the DOT should be on the table.

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The Iowa Senate today observed a milestone in the history of anti-discrimination in Iowa. Fifty years ago on April 21 the General Assembly unanimously approved the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965, following the enactment of the U.S. Civil Rights Act in 1964.      

Reading a senate resolution, Des Moines Democrat Tony Bisignano says great strides have been made in eliminating discrimination in Iowa.  

“The Senate commends all of those individuals who made that possible,” Bisignano says.

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Governor Branstad is urging an eastern Iowa town not to violate the spirit of the state’s new law raising the gas tax by ten cents a gallon.   

 The city of Clinton’s share of the new revenue is 470-thousand dollars, and the city council proposes spending more than half of that to hire new employees whose work would include street repair.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate say the money should go directly into infrastructure, and Branstad agrees.

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During the 2014 legislative session, lawmakers approved full funding for Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) for the first time in the program’s 25 year history, but Governor Branstad line item vetoed some of that funding when he went to sign the budget.

Will lawmakers fully fund the program again this year, and what are other environmental priorities for this year’s legislature?

John Pemble

Governor Terry Branstad’s administration is proposing a $2 million dollar plan to help ease student debt. It involves giving Iowans a generous tax credit to contribute to charities, who in turn give out grants to students who volunteer for the Iowa based nonprofits. Contributors will get 65% of their contributions back in the form of tax credits.

Student debt is a growing concern for recent graduates in Iowa. Michael Bousselout, legal counsel for Branstad says that while this plan isn’t a “silver bullet,” it’s a start.

John Pemble / IPR

Democrats who control the Iowa Senate and Republicans who control the Iowa House are at still at odds over their budget targets. But there has been a little bit of movement. Morning Edition Host Clay Masters checks in with IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell to talk about this little bit of movement and about other issues before the statehouse in the coming week. 

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Iowa drivers with handicapped parking permits are being warned of a safety hazard, and the head of the Transportation Committee in the Iowa House is taking steps to fix it.  

The House has approved a measure by Osage Republican Josh Byrnes that will redesign the parking placards so it’s clearer they should be taken down while driving.  

“It’s an obstruction to the vision of the driver,” Byrnes says. “It's been brought to my attention from bicyclists and motorcyclists. Because they're smaller than a car or truck, it’s harder to see those folks.” 

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The head of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy was in charge when an assistant director was accused of sexual harassment.

Now a deadline has passed for the Iowa Senate to confirm ILEA Director Arlen Ciechanowski for another term.   

Problems at the agency surfaced during a Senate Oversight Committee hearing last year on the hiring and firing practices of the Branstad administration.     A 2012 investigation concluded assistant director Michael Quinn made offensive remarks to female recruits.   Quinn stayed in his position until Director Ciechanowski fired him last year. 

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At least one school district in the state has notified teachers they’ll be getting pink slips while an impasse continues at the statehouse over how much money schools should get next year.     

Governor Branstad is downplaying the impact of the layoffs on schools.    

By April 30, schools must either renew contracts with teachers or lay them off at least temporarily  if they still don’t know how much money they’ll get from the state.   

John Pemble/IPR

Governor Branstad’s reappointment of the Iowa  Department of Human Services director gained the necessary 2/3 vote in the Iowa  Senate yesterday.  

Democrats argued against Chuck Palmer because of what they call the illegal closings of the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo and the Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant.  

Cedar Rapids Democrat Rob Hogg calls Palmer a capable administrator.

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A bill to get criminal records expunged for defendants charged with crimes that are later dismissed won unanimous approval in the Iowa House.  

That’s after lawmakers told stories about constituents who met with unfair treatment from the courts.

A woman in Democrat Sharon Steckman’s district was charged with dealing meth, but it was a case of mistaken identity, so the charges were dropped.

“You would think it would be over,” Steckman says. “For her it was not over.”

Photo by John Pemble

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will launch her campaign for the Democratic nomination for president with two stops in Iowa this week.

Governor Branstad gives her the same advice he gives all the candidates, don’t be a stranger to Iowa.   

Clinton will meet with small groups in Monticello and Norwalk for her inaugural trip.   Branstad calls that a departure.

“Obama had the big rallies with thousands of people,” Branstad says.   “But every election is different.” 

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Current Iowa law requires absentee ballots to be postmarked by the day before the election and received by noon on the following Monday. But what if the ballots aren't postmarked at all?

That's the question facing Iowa lawmakers. Some ballots aren't being postmarked and thus aren't being counted by county auditors. Wapello County was sued in 2010 over absentee ballots. County Auditor Kelly Spurgeon says the problem originates at the post office.

John Pemble / IPR

    

Republicans who control the Iowa House and Democrats who control the Iowa Senate continue to be pretty far apart when it comes to state aid for school funding.  Morning Edition Host Clay Masters checks in with IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell about the difference in opinions of the two chambers and discusses a number of other issues facing the legislature in the week ahead. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

A pagan minister offered the daily invocation in the Iowa House, sparking some protests by lawmakers.   

The first of its kind prayer in the chamber came as Christians flooded the statehouse on Home School Day.   

Priestess Deborah Maynard of the Cedar Rapids Unitarian Church was there at the invitation of Freshman Democratic Representative Liz Bennett, who says she wanted to showcase Iowa diversity. Maynard’s religion is pagan and nature-based. She prayed to earth, air, fire and water.

John Pemble / IPR

By a wide margin, the Iowa House approved a gun rights bill that critics say threatens public safety.   

The bill now goes to the Senate and an uncertain future. 

The firearms bill in its latest form allows children of any age to handle handguns with adult supervision.   Iowa City Democrat Mary Mascher questions Missouri Valley Republican Matt Windschitl.

“Do you believe a child of any age is capable of handling a handgun?” Mascher asks.

“I think that's up to the parents,” Windschitl says.

Sean McCann/Flickr

Getting into the business of raising honeybees would get a little easier under legislation that has advanced in the Iowa House. 

To address a decline in the pollinator's population, lawmakers want to exempt the purchase of honeybees from the state sales tax. They say that will encourage hobbyists to raise more bees.

Keokuk Democrat Jerry Kearns opposes the bill.

“First off, let me tell you I’m not a honeybee hater,” Kearns says.  “But taking the sales tax off of honeybees is not going to help at all.”

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