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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Photo by John Pemble

  

Almost every day last week we were getting updates on these so-called confidential settlements made by  the Branstad administration. More than 400,000 dollars has been paid out to laid off staffers.   IPR's Clay Masters gets the latest on it and other ongoing legislative issues from statehouse correspondent Joyce Russell.

Democrats in the Iowa Senate  heard from four former state employees who lost their jobs in what the Branstad  administration terms  a reorganization of state government.   Democrats object to what they call mass layoffs of so-called merit employees who were hired for their expertise, not their political connections.     One worker  told of receiving money for keeping her settlement private,  a practice which  Governor Branstad has now banned.   

A bill on Governor Branstad’s to-do list is sparking controversy  at the statehouse.  The bill addresses the problem of bullying in the schools,  especially as it occurs on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.       But how much money to spend on the  problem remains a stumbling block.   Also,  a coalition of  conservative House Republicans has its  own ideas.    

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The issue of the Branstad administration's confidential settlements with laid-off state workers still seems to be front and center at the capitol. As much as $400,000  was given out to fired workers. That doesn't show up on any budgets or balance sheets. The governor for his part has outlawed such settlements. IPR's Clay Masters checks in with Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell to discuss where things stand with the settlements and other issues up for discussion in the legislature this week. 

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There are 20 women now serving in the U.S. Senate including Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri. She is this semester’s Iowa State University Mary Louise Smith Chair in Women and Politics where Friday she delivered a lecture on the Ames campus.

A three-member panel at the statehouse signed off on a  bill to end greyhound racing at casinos in Council Bluffs and Dubuque.    The casinos and the communities where they’re located say dog racing is a dying sport.  But the greyhound industry is putting up a good fight.  

  

Cuts to the Department of Public Safety during the recession have left some Iowa counties without a single state trooper in residence. Now, the shortage may be alleviated under a justice system budget bill at the Statehouse. 

Under the bill, the Department of Public Safety would receive about $6 million to hire 33 new troopers. Representative Gary Worthan (R-Storm Lake) says in the overnight hours, there are as few as 6 patrol officers on duty in the entire state.

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There are a number of signs that things are wrapping up much earlier this year at the Iowa statehouse. Republican and Democratic Leaders in the House and Senate say they are well ahead of schedule and there’s a few issues shaking out that will likely be fodder in 2014 campaigns.

Statehouse Democrats say the legislature's oversight committee will be very busy in the coming weeks, as they look into recent allegations against  the Terry Branstad  administration.    They say the panel will first look into reports of secret settlements to fired state workers.  

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  Last week was another deadline at the Iowa statehouse for lawmakers to get more laws through committee so they can be debated on the floor.   

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Many were anticipating budget targets last week, Democrats who control the Senate and Republicans who control the House, have come to some kind of an agreement or a launching point. IPR's Clay Masters checks in with Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell to preview the week ahead at the capitol.  

On a strict party-line vote, the Iowa Senate  approved legislation backers  say will help crack down on employers who stiff workers for their wages.   Lawmakers say they hear often from immigrant workers in particular in construction and other industries who say they did the work for contractors but didn’t get paid.   Some employers tell a different story.

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The Iowa legislative calendar has the last day of the 2014 session falling late next month. Last week Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, said Iowa Republicans and Democrats have gotten better working together.

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On a strict party line vote, the Iowa Senate  approved a Democratic bill calling for a facility for delinquent girls in Iowa comparable to the boy’s facility in Eldora.  But  Republicans say a state-run institution  isn’t necessary, and the private sector can fill the need.   

Photo by John Pemble

The date’s now  set for the  unveiling of a new statue to represent Iowa in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol.  It’s a  likeness of famed Iowa agricultural  scientist and Nobel Peace Prize winner  Norman Borlaug.    The March 25th ceremony in Washington is just one part of  a lavish observance of the centennial of Borlaug’s birth.   

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Last week was funnel week at the Iowa Capitol, a time when lawmakers need to get their priority bills out of committee and into either the Iowa House or Senate. IPR's Clay Masters checks in with Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell to talk about the week ahead in the legislature.    

On a strict party-line vote, a committee in the Iowa Senate today addressed  what they say may be  excessive reserves  at the state’s leading health insurance company.   The bill would give the state insurance commissioner authority to order Wellmark to give profits back to consumers depending on the results of an audit of the company’s bottom line.     An earlier audit showed the company’s reserves might be too low.     

    

At the statehouse  the wheels fell off an 11th hour compromise to regulate the sale of cellphone insurance.   Some retailers offer it when you sign up for a cellphone plan.   But  store  clerks  aren’t required to be licensed to sell it.     A bill to change that set off an industry battle.   

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This week is when lawmakers have to have their bills wrapped up so they can make to the floor to be debated in either the Iowa House or Senate. This is an election year and at the outset of the session Republican and Democratic leaders said things can get done this session despite a lot of lawmakers vying for higher office and re-election, but consensus would have to be reached early. IPR's Clay Masters checks in with Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell to talk about the early deadline dubbed funnel week by lawmakers. 

Officials with NASCAR, the new owner of the Iowa Speedway, are asking state lawmakers for an extended tax rebate to, in their words, offer  more events at the Newton track.  Some state lawmakers are questioning whether a  wealthy organization like NASCAR needs an 8 million dollar tax break.

A couple from Adel brought tearful testimony to the statehouse.    Their  infant daughter died as a result of her care at an in-home child care provider.   A Republican-sponsored bill would require more in-home day cares to register with the state.    

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This legislative session has been dominated by controversy surrounding the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo. Gov  Branstad ordered its closure after the group Disability Rights Iowa found girls were being held in isolation. Four lawmakers sued Branstad to keep the home open. Last week many were surprised when a polk county district court judge ordered the reopening of the home. Governor Branstad has asked the Iowa Supreme Court to overturn the order to reopen the home. He made the announcement Friday and he is being represented by the Iowa Attorney General.

Iowa’s rural electric cooperatives are aggressively pursuing a new technology for measuring  electricity consumption  at homes and farms.    With so-called  smart meters , the REC’s  can tell how much power you’ve used without going anywhere near your house.   Health and privacy concerns have led some rural residents to look to the legislature for help.  

Photo by John Pemble

Governor Terry Branstad ordered the closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo last month. It was after an investigation uncovered some girls were held in isolation cells. Last week Senate Democrats unveiled a bill to reopen the home under a new program. IPR's Clay Masters talks with Statehouse Correspondent about the juvenile home as well as the likelihood of lawmakers raising the state's  gas tax.

State lawmakers looking into the closing of the Iowa Juvenile Home at Toledo got a fresh perspective from juvenile court officers who work with the  delinquent girls who used to be assigned to the home.     The officers argue that Iowa needs a facility specifically for  girls who’ve been in serious trouble with the law.  Governor Branstad is at odds with the judicial branch. 

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A committee in the Iowa Senate heard from experts on using stun guns, so-called tasers, to subdue difficult inmates. Two prisoners have died in Iowa jails after being tased by officers. A number of other law enforcement agencies have faced lawsuits for their use of stun guns. Iowa Public Radio's Joyce Russell reports

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Leaders in the Democratic Iowa Senate say they plan to set state aid funding for the 2016 school year and provide more money to expand access to preschool. But Republicans who control the Iowa House see things a bit differently. IPR's Clay Masters checks in with Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell about the week ahead in the state legislature.

The Shepard family from Dayton Iowa and their friends and supporters came to the capitol  to lobby for tougher penalties for kidnappers.  15 year old  Kathlynn

  

   Shepard  died at the hands of a kidnapper last year, and lawmakers say a stronger law  might have prevented the tragedy. 

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Democrats in the Iowa Senate plan to introduce a bill to reopen the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo.   Governor Branstad ordered the home closed after an  investigation revealed that some girls were being held in long-term isolation.   On Wednesday, a Senate committee heard testimony from former residents and staff, as well as Toledo boosters.  Iowa Public Radio’s Joyce Russell reports:  

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Lawmakers kicked off the 2014 legislative session last week and Governor Terry Branstad laid out his priorities: create job opportunities to incentive military veterans to move and work in Iowa, bring high speed internet access to the entire state and introduce legislation that would prevent school bullying. These issues can likely get bipartisan support in an election year. Clay Masters talks to statehouse correspondent Joyce Russell about the one thing both parties agree has to get done this legislative session: the budget.

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