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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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.   

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.

John Pemble/IPR

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.” 

Phil Romans / Flickr

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.”

Photo by John Pemble

The president of China, a longtime associate of Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, will be returning to the United States later this year.  

Governor Branstad has invited the Chinese leader to visit to Iowa again during the trip. Xi Jinping first came to the state in 1985 and returned in 2012 to sign a multi-billion dollar soybean export deal.  

“We have already sent a letter saying we would love to host him in Iowa again,” Branstad says.

United Nations Photo/Flickr

Some Iowa industries would pay fees for the first time in order to enforce clean air regulations, under a bill making its way through the Iowa Senate.   

The Department of Natural Resources says fees are based on the weight of emitted pollutants and the state has collected less money as industries have reduced emissions.

The DNR is negotiating with regulated industries to come up with a new fee structure. 

Photo by John Pemble

Republicans in the Iowa House say they still support so-called stand your ground legislation, even though it has not been a gun rights priority this year.    

The House and Senate are considering a wide-ranging bill backed by the NRA, but it does not include a provision that says you can defend yourself with lethal force outside your home with no duty to retreat or avoid conflict.     

Senate Republican leader Bill Dix says stand your ground legislation remains a constituent priority.

John Pemble / IPR

Last week was the second self-imposed deadline for the Iowa legislature to get bills through committee. That means if they didn’t clear committee on Friday… they’re dead for the year. IPR's Clay Masters checks in with Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell about what died and what's left for Iowa lawmakers to debate. 

iprimages

Republicans in the Iowa House Wednesday revived wide-ranging firearms legislation, agreeing to some demands from Senate Democrats.  

Senate Democrats argued an earlier bill threatened public safety.  

The GOP agreed to drop a proposal to eliminate the three day waiting period to purchase a handgun.  

Earlier this week the differences between the House and Senate seemed insurmountable.   Democrats wanted to preserve the required permit to acquire a handgun including a three day waiting period and mandatory background checks.   

wintersoul2/flickr

The party may soon be over if you’ve been using a handicapped parking permit in your vehicle without being handicapped.  

The Iowa House voted unanimously to eliminate non-expiring permits and require drivers to reapply for them every five years instead.     

Moulton Republican Larry Sheets says some people are cheating:

Joyce Russell/IPR

An eleventh hour attempt is underway in the Republican-dominated Iowa House to delay Governor Branstad’s plan to close the mental health institutes at Mount Pleasant and Clarinda.

Republicans and Democrats alike want to keep the facilities open until alternative arrangements can be made for patients. 

Acute care at Mount Pleasant is scheduled to shut down next Monday and staff will be laid off.   A bill from the Democratic-controlled Senate has now cleared a three-member panel in the House to continue to accept patients through the end of the fiscal year. 

iprimages

A committee in the Iowa Senate today voted not to recommend the reappointment of Governor Branstad’s choice to head the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.

Director Arlen Ciechanowski  was in charge when an assistant director was accused of sexual harassment.  

John Pemble

Iowa has a law mandating life in prison without parole for teen killers, but this law is deemed unconstitutional by both the U.S. and the Iowa Supreme Courts.

A proposal moving through Iowa’s legislature would modify the state’s current law mandating life in prison for juveniles convicted of murder. The legislation gives judges three sentencing options. One of those options is still life in prison without parole.

John Pemble/IPR

An executive with the alternative transportation company known as Uber was at the capitol today, lobbying for a bill the company says would help them expand to more Iowa communities.   

Uber offers rides like a taxi, except the drivers use their own cars and drum up business through a smartphone app.   

“This bill provides a uniform standard,” says Uber General Manager Pooneet Kant. “With Des Moines, there’s also West Des Moines a driver could be going through. We think having a uniform standard makes more sense.”  

John Pemble / IPR

Iowa lawmakers are facing another funnel deadline this week at the statehouse. Bills must have cleared one chamber and a committee in the other chamber in order to continue to be eligible for consideration. IPR's Julie Englander spoke with Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell about some of the bills facing this deadline. One would make it a primary offense to use your cell phone while driving. Another would make speeding tickets issued by traffic cameras more detailed.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill backers say would benefit African-Americans in the criminal justice system failed to advance in a Republican-dominated panel in the Iowa House today.    

The NAACP favors the bill to expunge the criminal record when charges against a defendant are dropped.  

Currently online court records don’t indicate a charge was dropped.    So an employer can go online and see only that a job applicant was charged with a crime. 

Clinton Democrat and defense attorney Mary Wolfe says she hears from young African-Americans who had unfounded charges dismissed.

John Pemble / IPR

Five Republicans and five Democrats met again at the statehouse Tuesday without resolving an ongoing conflict over how much state money K-12 schools should get next year.  While districts around the state await word, the House and Senate remain 100 million dollars apart. Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen couldn’t say what the resolution will be.

”We didn't have it today obviously,” Paulsen says.  “Educators are looking for us to get this resolved and my hope is that we can get that done.” 

Joyce Russell/IPR

A Republican-dominated panel in the Iowa House Tuesday signed off on a Senate bill to revise sentences  for underage offenders who commit homicide. Backers say the bill would bring Iowa into compliance with court rulings that Iowa’s current law is unconstitutional. 

Both the U.S. and the Iowa Supreme Courts threw out Iowa’s law mandating life in prison without parole for teen killers. The Senate bill gives courts other options. Courts could allow parole immediately. But they could also still hand down the life without parole sentence.   

Iowa Public Radio

Republicans would dominate on the Iowa Board of Regents if three new nominees are confirmed, and one Senate Democrat says Governor Branstad is not following the intent of the law with the appointments.  

The governor nominated Vermeer executive Mary Andringa, Des Moines community volunteer Patty Cownie, and UNI student Rachel Johnson.  

Coralville Democrat Bob Dvorsky says with the appointments the nine-member board will include five Republicans, two Democrats, and two Independents.    

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

The Iowa Senate is unlikely to take up the issue of collective bargaining, so why did the House debate it until 10 PM last Tuesday?

State Rep. Sharon Steckman, a Democrat from Mason City, felt that the bill was a distraction from the bigger issue of school funding.

"They are waiting to know what their funds will be for this upcoming school year and we felt like this entire bill was a distraction and that's why we totally opposed it," Steckman says.

But State Rep. Greg Forristall, a Republican from Macedonia, says that these processes sometimes take years. 

Photo by John Pemble

Lawmakers in the Iowa Republican House last week passed legislation that would weaken bargaining rights for teachers unions. It’s unlikely to even be taken up in the Democratic-controlled Senate. It’s just another part of the fights over education at the Iowa statehouse. IPR's Clay Masters checks in with Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell about the week ahead at the capitol. 

Jess Calhoun

Members of a gun safety group that formed after the Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut were at the Iowa statehouse today. They’re lobbying against a bill awaiting debate in the Iowa Senate that critics say will expand access to firearms. 

Jess Calhoun of Ames is with the Iowa affiliate of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

“We want to work to see more common sense solutions to gun violence in our country,” Calhoun says.

Joyce Russell/IPR

After a roughly nine hour debate, Republicans in the Iowa House today voted strictly along party lines to scale back Iowa’s collective bargaining law for public employees, but only for teachers and other school employees. Dozens of education groups lobbied hard against the bill, which could make it more likely that teachers would get smaller raises when the school and teachers union disagree. Mason City Democrat Sharon Steckman calls the bill an attack on public schools.

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