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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Joyce Russell/IPR

The YMCA of Greater Des Moines has landed a new high-profile administrator, naming former Democratic Governor Chet Culver as its new president.    

Culver will oversee fundraising as the Y strives to complete delayed capital projects, including an Olympic-size swimming pool at the downtown branch.    

Culver says he’s long been interested in athletics and wellness.  

Officials at the Y say his contacts in the community will be invaluable.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Republican State Auditor Mary Mosiman warns that an $800 million state budget surplus has now fallen to about $80 million because of big property tax cuts and a new teacher leadership program.   

She warns against new multi-year commitments, now that state tax receipts have dwindled. 

Mosiman says when lawmakers passed the big programs, the state could afford them.

“It’s taxpayer money and we need to do something with it,” Mosiman says.  “So they put it to use with the multiyear commitments being education and property tax reform.” 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad is unhappy with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a Texas abortion law.    

The case dealt with the same issues the Iowa Supreme Court considered when it upheld Iowa’s telemed abortion program.   

The Texas law required abortion clinics to be near hospitals, so doctors performing abortions can admit patients if there are complications.

It also required abortion clinics to meet certain building, equipment and staffing regulations.

Branstad says states should be able to protect the wellbeing of their citizens.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad and the top Democrat in the Iowa Senate exchanged harsh words Monday over the legislature's failure to approve a plan for water quality improvements before adjourning last week.    

Governor Branstad's proposal to tap school infrastructure dollars to raise billions of dollars for water quality fell flat.  

On a bipartisan vote, the House passed a bill to divert money from other state programs but the bill was not debated in the Senate.  

Branstad says Majority Leader Mike Gronstal wasn't serious about doing something about water quality this year.

John Pemble/IPR

State lawmakers brought their 2016 legislative session to a close last evening before darkness fell,   wrapping things up a week and a half past their scheduled shutdown.    

The roughly seven-point-three billion dollar state budget is now on its way to the governor, and lawmakers go home to campaign for re-election.  

One of the most highlighted ambitions for the 2016 session did not come to pass, and that’s a long-term plan to clean up Iowa’s rivers and streams.

Joyce Russell/IPR

After months of negotiations, statehouse Democrats and Republicans have reached agreement on how to keep an eye on the new privatized Medicaid system. Since April 1, health care for more than half a million Iowans has been managed by for-profit companies. 

Rep. Linda Miller (R-Bettendorf) says under the compromise more consumers will be added to a key Medicaid advisory council.

“We’ve told the governor he has to get the consumers on there,” Miller said, “at least ten consumers on there, I think, by July 1st.”

John Pemble/IPR

 

The lobbying groups who treat state lawmakers to thousands of dollars worth of free food every year could face some new requirements under last-minute legislation at the capitol.   

It’s part of an 11th hour budget bill under consideration as the legislature marches toward adjournment.  

Interest groups routinely serve breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks to elected representatives as they work to influence legislation.

There’s no limit on what they can spend during the session as long as all lawmakers are invited.  

John Pemble/IPR

A state senator who oversees spending on public buildings, including the capitol complex, has harsh words for Governor Branstad as state lawmakers move toward adjournment.  

The governor has rejected borrowing for infrastructure repairs, including more than $600 million in deferred maintenance.

As a result, repairs will be left undone at the Wallace State Office Building, the State Historical Building, and the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.

Des Moines Democrat Matt McCoy charges that Branstad will not leave public buildings in better shape than he found them.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Activists held a news conference at the statehouse today, visibly shaken by Monday night’s defeat in the House of a medical marijuana bill.  

Backers of medical marijuana say they are still hoping lawmakers will approve a bill legalizing its production and distribution in Iowa so patients don’t have to travel to other states. 

Parents of epileptic children including, Sally Gaer of West Des Moines, say the legislative session is not over yet.

”There is a way to fix this and I implore the house to continue to fight,” Gaer said. 

Des Moines Water Works Blog

The Des Moines Water Works lawsuit against three northwest Iowa counties over nitrates in the water sparked debate in the Iowa House today.   

A rural lawmaker wants to expand representation on the Water Works Board of Trustees.

He says that’s in part because of the lawsuit alleging drainage districts in Sac, Calhoun, and Buena Vista counties are responsible for high nitrate levels in the Raccoon River.

Rep. Jared Klein (R-Keota) wants urban and rural areas surrounding Des Moines to have a seat at the table if the Water Works raises its rates. 

John Pemble/IPR

Republicans in the Iowa House last night offered legislation to expand the number of medical conditions covered by Iowa’s medical cannabis law.  

But the legislation would still require Iowans to travel to another state, and it was defeated by a wide margin.  

The measure was debated as a bill to legalize the production and distribution of medical marijuana in Iowa remains stalled in the House.   

Under last night’s bill, Iowans would still have to travel to a limited number of states to purchase cannabis, but that could be expanded to nearby Minnesota.  

Photo by John Pemble

Some Iowa Democrats are changing their party registration in order to vote against 4th District Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King in the upcoming primary, and Governor Branstad says there’s plenty of precedent for the practice.  

Democrats who oppose Congressman King hope to vote for his Republican challenger Sen. Rick Bertrand (R-Sioux City) in the June primary.

Branstad recalls that in 1994, Democrats changed parties to try to defeat him.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Iowa public safety officials say they make a handful of arrests each year for attempted child abductions, and they’re advising Iowans to be aware of suspicious activity now that children will be outside in spring weather.  

The Department of Public Safety last year formed a Child Abduction Response Team after abductions and murders of children in Evansdale and Dayton.  

Department Director Roxann Ryan says Iowans are already phoning in when they see something that looks like an abduction in progress.

John Pemble / IPR

Lawmakers return to the capitol in Des Moines for what is expected to be the final week of the 2016 legislative session. Morning Edition Host Clay Masters talked with IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell about the big issues they’re going to tackle (or not) before they can go home.

1)      The State Budget. This is always an issue Democrats in the Senate and Republicans in the House have to agree over.  A GOP Human Services Budget bill that defunds Planned Parenthood must be reconciled with the Democratic Senate.  

John Pemble

Families striving to raise autistic children would get help under a human services budget approved in  the Republican-controlled Iowa House this week.   

But Democrats say private insurers should cover the treatment to take the burden off taxpayers.

Under the bill, more families will have access to a revolving fund to pay for intensive treatment.

“To be able to have early intervention will offer an opportunity to reach a state of normalcy,”  said Rep. David Heaton (R-Mount Pleasant).  

Photo by John Pemble

A GOP state senator wants clerks of court around the state to keep their offices open during all normal business hours, in spite of a limited judicial branch budget for next year.  

Court officials warn they may have to reduce office hours or furlough workers under a judicial branch status quo spending plan.

In 2009, court employees took unpaid leave and offices were closed for several days to accommodate a nearly four million dollar cut in the judicial branch budget. Hours were reduced in some counties again in 2013.

Photo by John Pemble

The golden dome of the historic Iowa State Capitol is succumbing to damage from the inside out, and scaffolding will soon envelop the structure as part of a $10 million restoration.  

The dome was regilded in 2005, but McCoy says the current problems weren't apparent during a prior restoration project. 

Des Moines Democrat Matt McCoy says moisture has seeped in and eroded the mortar.

“They are going to have to go up into the dome, with scaffolding all around the dome,” McCoy says, “and fix and repair the cupola on down.”

Joyce Russell/IPR

A state senator best known for leading a long and controversial fight to legalize the hunting of mourning doves said farewell to the Iowa Senate today. 

Des Moines Democrat and avid hunting enthusiast Dick Dearden is retiring after 20 years in the legislature. 

In remarks to his fellow Senators, Dearden recalls leading passage of the dove hunting bill three times before it finally became law in 2011. 

He remembers what he calls one of his favorite e-mails from an animal rights enthusiast:

Photo by John Pemble

A controversial measure to defund Planned Parenthood because the organization performs abortions is again under consideration at the statehouse, with the blessing of Governor Branstad. 

Republicans have added the measure to a human services budget bill, setting up a showdown with Democratic critics.   

The governor won’t comment on the specific legislation, but at his weekly news conference he made his views clear.

Wikimedia Commons

As the Iowa legislature strives toward adjournment, we look to surrounding states to compare and contrast priorities at other statehouses in the Midwest during this hour of River to River. During this conversation, Iowa Public Radio Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell talks with Brandon Smith of Indiana Public Broadcasting, Brian Mackey of WUIS in Springfield, Illinois, and Shawn Johnson of Wisconsin Public Radio.

John Pemble/IPR

After high hopes for action at the statehouse this year on water quality, it appears that lawmakers will soon be adjourning without reaching consensus on how to pay for the cleanup of Iowa rivers and streams. 

So far the Republican House and Democratic Senate have not been able to agree on a funding plan for water quality improvements.

The governor, the House, and the Senate each had competing funding mechanisms for cleaning up the water.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) says the three interested parties are like ships passing in the night.

Jared and Corin/flickr

It appears that advocates for rural Iowa schools will again be wrapping up this year’s legislative session without addressing a critical concern.

With more and more school consolidations, students are traveling longer distances to school, resulting in higher transportation costs compared to other districts around the state.    

Sen. Tom Shipley (R-Nodaway) represents students in the Southwest Valley District, what used to be Villisca and Corning schools.

Louis/flickr

Budget writers at the capitol have found a way to squeeze a few million dollars out of the education budget, in order to boost appropriations for the Regents universities. 

Even so, education advocates are calling funding for the schools woefully inadequate. 

Under the budget that now goes to the full House for debate, funding for the three universities will go up by a total of about $6 million, less than a third of their request. 

That amounts to a raise of less than one percent for the University of Iowa and one-point-two percent for Iowa State.

Joyce Russell/IPR

It will be another year before Iowa schools will be required to offer mandatory summer school for third graders not reading at grade level, under a preliminary education budget unveiled at the capitol today.

Lawmakers of both parties say there’s not enough money to start the program as scheduled in 2017.   

Under the proposed budget, schools will now have until 2018 to offer summer help to struggling third graders and to require children to repeat the grade if they don’t attend.      

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources/flickr

A bill to appropriate historic levels of funding for water quality passed the Iowa House last night by a vote of 65 to 33. 

Democrats argued it may not be enough to keep the federal government from taking over enforcement of clean water in the state.     

The bill was approved after six hours of private meetings and two hours of public debate. 

John Pemble

The penny sales tax that funds school infrastructure projects is set to expire in 2029.

On this edition of River to River, Iowa Public Radio Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell hosts a discussion on the history and the future of the penny sales tax. She's joined by the Superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools, Thomas Ahart, as well as Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D) and Rep. Matt Windschitl (R). 

Iowa Governor's Office

A restoration project honoring a former governor and Civil War veteran will receive the first grant from the Iowa History Fund, which was set up as part of Governor Branstad’s longest serving governor observance.  

The $6500 grant will complete fundraising to restore the mausoleum at Woodland Cemetery of Samuel Merrill. 

Photo by John Pemble

The split Iowa Legislature has taken another step toward adjournment by agreeing to state budget targets. Details for the budget of about $7.3 billion remain pretty vague at this point. Here’s what IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell says are the important details to watch this week:

Cedar Ridge Distillery

Beer manufacturers and wholesalers are trying to stop a bill in the legislature that would benefit Iowa’s burgeoning distillery industry.  

The bill would put makers of spirits on a more even playing field with breweries and wineries.   

Under the bill, distilleries could sell spirits by the glass in their tasting rooms and increase the daily sales limit.   Wineries and brewers can sell by the glass and bottle with no sales or production limits.    

Ryan Harvey / Flickr

Iowa is one of only a handful of states where it isn't legal to cash out an online fantasy sports bet. That could change this legislative session. Rep. Jake Highfill, a Republican from Johnston, introduced legislation that would legalize cash prizes for participating in the games online. Rep. Guy Vander Linden of Oskaloosa, says that type of gaming needs regulation.

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