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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A Republican lawmaker who negotiated an agreement with the Governor to delay the closings of the mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda is defending the plan against Democratic critics.

Representative David Heaton of Mount Pleasant says without the compromise, the Governor would have used his veto power to force the closings on June 30th

Under the compromise, the facilities will stay open through December 15th, and then later reopen as private facilities.   

John Pemble

What do honey bees, baseball fields and coin-operated laundries have in common? This year, their owners are being considered as possible recipients of new state tax breaks.

On this legislative day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer is joined by lawmakers and IPR correspondent Joyce Russell to discuss various tax bills being debated at the capitol.

Senator Joe Bolkom, a Democrat from Iowa City and Representative Tom Sands, a Republican from Wapello, also talk about what could be done with any state budget surplus, including giving it back to taxpayers.

John Pemble / IPR

Week after week it’s looked like no compromise was in sight between the state’s Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican majority House over K-12 funding, but a tentative agreement looks promising that lawmakers have figured out how much to fund schools for the coming year. IPR's Clay Masters checks in with Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell to preview the week ahead at the Iowa capitol. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

The chairman of the Iowa Republican party today announced changes to the GOP’s straw poll held each presidential election cycle.  

It has gotten increasingly more expensive for candidates to compete in the Iowa Straw Poll, and some have dropped out after poor results.   

Jeff Kaufmann says he has answered objections from current and former candidates.   

Kaufmann says for this year’s event on August 8 in Boone, they’re eliminating bidding for space at the event which has cost campaigns as much as 35,000 dollars.

John Pemble/IPR

A tentative agreement on basic state aid for K-12 schools has been reached at the statehouse.

 A disagreement between the House and Senate has stood in the way of adjournment of the 2015 session. 

An aide says Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal have reached a tentative deal, which will now be presented to rank and file legislators.     

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A bill to make it easier for cellphone companies to put up new towers passed the Iowa House today on a largely party-line vote.  

The bill would create uniform statewide standards cities and counties would have to follow, including limiting the time they could take to approve a new tower.  

Boone Republican Chip Baltimore says dealing with different local rules slows things down for cellphone companies.

“It’s an attempt to expedite the application process,” Baltimore says, “and then also make sure that cities and counties are not second-guessing business decisions.”

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad’s broadband bill, which passed the House earlier this session by a wide margin, received a cool welcome Tuesday at its first hearing in the Democratically controlled Senate.    

This is the second year the governor has asked for incentives for telecommunications companies to expand broadband.   Democrats question whether tax breaks would result in more Iowans with high-speed internet.     

Telecommunications lobbyists crowded a committee room in the Iowa Senate, where Des Moines Democrat Janet Peterson was in charge.

Photo by Joyce Russell/IPR

The head of Iowa’s top job creation agency was in the hot seat at the capitol Monday. Lawmakers and union representatives grilled Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham about mass layoffs at the Iowa Fertilizer Company plant in Lee County.  But Durham says the  record-breaking incentives that attracted an Egyptian company to Iowa will not be scaled back.  

The pink slips last month took union workers and state lawmakers by surprise.  

Durham says she found out about them from Burlington Democrat and labor supporter Senator Tom Courtney.

Photo by John Pemble

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

John Pemble/IPR

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.

John Pemble/IPR

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.     

John Pemble/IPR

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.

Amy Mayer/IPR

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."

Photo by John Pemble/IPR

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.

John Pemble/IPR

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.

John Pemble/IPR

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.

Green Fire Productions / flickr

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. 

Photo by John Pemble

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.” 

John Pemble/IPR

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. 

John Pemble/IPR

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.   

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