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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John Pemble/IPR file photo

Update Dec. 7 at 8:09 am:  Several news reports quote unnamed sources saying President-elect Trump has offered the ambassadorship to Branstad and that he has accepted.  Gov. Branstad's spokesman, Ben Hammes, tells IPR the report is "premature and not confirmed."  We will update this story as we learn more.

Tuesday's story:

Governor Branstad had what he calls a cordial conversation today with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York City.    

But the governor remains mum about a possible appointment in the new administration.   

Jimmy Centers / Office of Governor Terry Branstad

Governor Branstad will meet later this week in New York City with president-elect Donald Trump amid speculation the governor will be asked to become U.S. Ambassador to China. 

Branstad is rumored to be among Trump’s top choices for the job.   This past weekend, a Bloomberg Politics report said Branstad is the frontrunner for the post.

Branstad leaves for a previously-scheduled economic development trip to New York City Tuesday and is scheduled to meet at some point with Trump before he leaves New York.    

Joyce Russell/IPR

A top Republican in the Iowa legislature is calling for a comprehensive review of state tax policy, including cutting taxes, now that his party is in full control at the statehouse.   

House GOP leader Chris Hagenow (R-Windsor Heights)  answered questions at a meeting of the Iowa Taxpayers Association today.  

“I think we need a completely fresh look at tax policy in this state top to bottom and we're going to go through that,”  Hagenow said.  “Fundamentally, it’s 'are we going to find a way to reduce the tax burden  of Iowa taxpayers?'”  

Marco Antonio Coloma/flickr

A tax break Iowans enjoy on digitally-delivered goods is under consideration at the statehouse.

Officials with the Iowa Department of Revenue today briefed a panel of state lawmakers who are charged with reviewing the tax credits that cost the state treasury hundreds of millions of dollars a year.    

DOR economist Amy Harris said Iowans currently do not pay sales tax when they download e-books, movies, or software from the internet.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

The director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy is watching as President-elect Donald Trump makes key appointments affecting drug enforcement.  

He’s optimistic strong anti-drug administrators will be named.  

Steve Lukan says Iowans in the drug enforcement and treatment community have noted the appointment of  Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General.   

Lukan says there’s speculation the Trump administration may have different ideas about enforcing federal marijuana laws than the current administration.

Paul Simon Public Policy Institute

A familiar face will be returning to the set of the long-running Iowa Public Television public affairs program Iowa Press.   Longtime Des Moines Register political reporter and nationally recognized political analyst David Yepsen is returning to the program as its moderator and host.   He will replace host Dean Borg, who has hosted the program since 1971, and announced his retirement last week.  Most recently Yepsen directed the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.   Yepsen calls it a tremendous honor to return to Iowa Press.

Iowa Department of Transportation

A new high-tech method for finding carpool partners is up and running at the Iowa Department of Transportation’s website. 

At IowaRideshare.org a motorist or passenger enters basic information to locate someone with similar transportation needs.   

The proposed route will show up on an Iowa map.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf

Iowans with family members who are addicted to heroin or narcotic painkillers now have an easy way to acquire a potentially life-saving antidote, after action by the medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health.   

Patricia Quinlisk has issued a standing order so that any family member who demonstrates a need can go to a local pharmacy and purchase naloxone which can reverse the effects of an overdose. 

In an overdose situation, naloxone reverses the drug-induced slowing of the respiratory system.   

Mandie/flickr

Women who use legal drugs such as alcohol during pregnancy could be reported for possible child abuse under proposed legislation state lawmakers may be considering in January.   

Currently, mandatory reporters of child abuse must speak up if it appears an infant is born with exposure to illegal drugs. 

However, mandatory reporting does not kick in if the baby is showing signs of withdrawal from other substances.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A workgroup studying how to protect drug-endangered children is considering changes in state law to address caregivers involved with illegal and legal drugs.   

The current law was designed to protect kids in homes where methamphetamines were being used, sold, or manufactured.           

Under a proposed bill, a wider variety of controlled substances could lead to a child abuse assessment.     

Janee Harvey with the DHS Child Welfare Bureau says currently cocaine, heroin, or opioids are treated differently from meth.

ILEA

The director of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy this week briefed Governor Branstad on morale at the school after the recent shootings of Des Moines area police officers Justin Martin and Anthony Beminio. 

The comments came as director Judy Bradshaw presented her agency’s budget request to the governor and his advisors.

Bradshaw says she gathered students together for a briefing shortly after the assault on the officers. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

A new program to get severely ill psychiatric patients into a hospital in a timely manner is working, according to a new report by the Iowa Department of Human Services.  

Officials say the 29 hospitals in Iowa that serve psychiatric patients are now reporting available beds into a statewide database, so law enforcement officers and others can know where there’s an opening in an emergency situation. 

“We now have 100% involvement of all the hospitals,” said DHS director Charles Palmer.  

The DHS director briefed Governor Branstad’s budget panel on the program.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A three-year-old state law to crack down on theft of public funds from Iowa’s smallest cities has not cut down on fraud.   

Six-hundred small towns are now getting surprise visits from the state auditor’s office.     

The law mandates an audit at least every eight years.   

State Auditor Mary Mosiman says so far city employees are stealing public funds at about the same rate.

“I have to say we haven’t seen any reduction,” Mosiman said.   “When people want to commit fraud they figure out a way to try to do it until it's brought to the attention.”

Marcia Cirillo/flickr

Unofficial totals from last week’s election are out from the Secretary of State’s office, showing turnout among Iowa voters was down slightly compared to 2012.  

Officials say the numbers reflect the weaker support for Hillary Clinton compared to Barack Obama four years ago.    

More than than one-and-a-half million Iowans voted this year.

“In terms of all registered voters turnout was 71.2 percent according to the data we have so far,” said Secretary of State spokesman Kevin Hall.

House GOP caucus

Republicans in the Iowa House have voted to re-install the leaders who oversaw last week’s GOP success at the ballot box.

Republicans now enjoy at a 59 seat majority in the House after defeating two Democratic incumbents last week.

Meeting in private on Wednesday, they re-elected Rep. Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake as Speaker of the House and Rep. Chris Hagenow of Windsor Heights as majority leader.   He will direct the House debate calendar.

House Republicans will meet next month to discuss specifics on the agenda.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Drivers of the high-dollar all-electric vehicle known as Tesla may be making their way across Iowa more often, now that some super-fast charging stations are available.   

Hy-Vee stores in West Des Moines, Coralville, and Davenport have installed the new so-called superchargers in their parking lots to benefit Tesla drivers only.   

Company spokesman Will Nicholas says it will speed up long-distance Midwestern travel.

“Our cars can come in here at no cost currently and charge up to 170 miles in 20 minutes,” Nicholas said.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Iowa’s Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds is putting to rest persistent rumors that Governor Branstad will retire before his four-year term ends, putting Reynolds into office and setting her up as the incumbent in 2018.    

The governor has long denied any such intention.    

The rumor got new life with news reports that Branstad could become ambassador to China under a new Donald Trump administration.   

Reynolds was asked at the administration’s weekly news conference if she had discussed the possibility with the governor.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Officials with Governor Branstad’s administration say they hope to double the number of registered apprenticeships with Iowa employers over the next five years, part of their goal to get more Iowans into post high-school training and education.   

Under the program, trainees are paid to learn a trade or other job skills.    

Eighteen-year-old Josh Smith is working for Mid-American Energy while learning welding at Central Campus High School in Des Moines. 

John Pemble/IPR

The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled Governor Branstad had the authority to close the state-run Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant last year.      

The court threw out a complaint by two dozen Democrats in the state legislature and the president of the union that represented many of the workers at the two facilities.  

The Mental Health Institutes were closed on June 30th of last year, putting members of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees out of work.

John Pemble/IPR

The Republican party did well in statehouse races across the country Tuesday, and the Iowa GOP did its part for the victory.   

Republicans took control of the Iowa Senate, continuing a nationwide trend over the past several years.   

Daniel Diorio with the National Conference of State Legislatures says Republicans now control two-thirds of all House and Senate chambers nationwide. 

“Republicans are at their all-time high for state chamber control,” Diorio said.   “So they have really dominated ever since 2010 state legislatures across the country.”

John Pemble/IPR

The Iowa Republican Party is celebrating a victory in the Iowa Senate.  

After Tuesday’s voting,   Republicans picked up six seats to win a new 29 to 19 majority, the first time the GOP has controlled both Houses of the legislature since the 2002 election.  

It’s the first time since the 1996 election that Republicans held the trifecta:  the governor’s office and both the House and Senate.      

Senate minority leader Bill Dix, soon to be majority leader, addressed a cheering crowd at the GOP watch party in Des Moines.

Joyce Russell/IPR

One of Donald Trump’s most combative supporters, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, traveled the state Wednesday, drumming up support for the Republican candidate for president ahead of next week’s election.    

A standing room only crowd of Trump supporters showed up at a 7 a.m. meeting of the Westside Conservative Club in Urbandale to hear the former federal prosecutor.     

To an approving crowd, Giuliani did not pull any punches in attacking Hillary Clinton.   

He called the Clinton family a criminal enterprise.

Joyce Russell/IPR

State tourism officials have named three new byways through the state, including the historic Jefferson Highway.

The route was first designated 100 years ago, envisioned as the north-south equivalent to the Lincoln Highway.

It runs from Winnipeg, Manitoba to New Orleans, following Highways 65 and 69 from Northwood to Lamoni in Iowa.

New markers will go up along the historic route in time for the 2018 tourism season.

Loring Miller of Leon in Decatur County is one of the project’s boosters.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

While all eyes are on a recently tight presidential race, politicos in Iowa are considering another razor thin margin: that of the Iowa Senate. With a Republican governor and the GOP holding 57 of the 100 seats in the House of Representatives, the outcome of one or two state senate races could determine whether the Republicans get a Statehouse trifecta.

John Pemble/IPR

Democrats in the Iowa Senate who stood in the way of gun rights bills are now facing opposition for re-election in several districts around the state.  

The Iowa Firearms Coalition is working to defeat the incumbents, in hopes of achieving a Republican majority in the Senate.

Last year the Republican-controlled House approved bills to protect the confidentiality of gun permit holders, and to eliminate age restrictions for children handling guns with adult supervision.    In 2015 a wide-ranging gun bill would have eliminated background checks for private handgun sales.

Michael Leland/IPR

As Iowans prepare to cast their ballots next week, the race is on for control of the Iowa Senate where Democrats have a slim 26-24 majority.    If Republicans take enough seats to win the majority,   it will mean the GOP will be in charge of both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office for the first time since the 1996 election.   Republican Party of Iowa chair Jeff Kauffman says the two parties are competing hard in competitive districts across the state.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds is speaking out against the reported behavior of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump toward women over the years. 

But she predicts that when Iowa voters go to the polls next month they will focus on other issues.      

At the Branstad administration’s weekly news conference, Reynolds was asked about reports of sexual harassment and assault against Trump.

WonderWhy/flickr

Governor Branstad says a higher minimum wage in some parts of the state but not others is causing problems for businesses and local governments.   

He says he’ll work with the legislature to try to agree on a higher statewide minimum wage.

Linn, Polk, Wapello, and Johnson Counties have approved a higher countywide minimum wage.    But not all towns in those counties have gone along.  

Also, the governor says, some cities straddle county lines.  

Rob Dillard/IPR

Governor Branstad says the Iowa Highway Patrol will be available to help local law enforcement police a planned protest against the controversial Bakken Crude Oil Pipeline.  

Critics threaten to engage in civil disobedience Wednesday to stop construction at a rural Boone County location.  

At his weekly news conference Branstad, says the Iowa Highway Patrol protects the safety and well-being of Iowans.

“Whether it is at the State Fair or on the highways or wherever it might be,” Branstad says.

Iowa Public Radio/Sarah Boden

A federal report released last year shows in 2014, for-profit companies managing part of Iowa’s three billion dollar Medicaid program made far fewer faulty payments than the state-run portion of the program.  

Governor Branstad says that shows fraud and abuse will go down, now that for-profit companies are in charge of most of Iowa’s Medicaid patients.      

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