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

There were signs from the statehouse today that Governor Branstad’s new water quality initiative may face a tough slog in the legislature, in both the Republican House and the Democratic Senate. 

The Governor wants to take part of a state sales tax intended for schools, and spend it instead on water quality.  

Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer says some House Republicans don’t support that.

“I don't think anyone favors having a pot of money without a plan,” Upmeyer says.  “We want to make sure we’re doing it smart.”

Joyce Russell/IPR

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush criticized Donald Trump in a speech before the Westside Conservative Club in Urbandale, which is hosting Republican candidates ahead of the February 1 caucuses.  

Bush addressed a full house over breakfast at the Machine Shed restaurant.

John Pemble/IPR

Governor Branstad Tuesday delivered his Condition of the State Address to a joint session of the Iowa House and Senate.   He also unveiled his more than seven-billion dollar state budget for next year. 

His initiatives are getting a cautious response from lawmakers. 

The Iowa legislature made history Monday by swearing in its first woman as Speaker of the Iowa House.   There was bipartisan praise for Republican Linda Upmeyer.   But the bipartisanship was lacking in opening-day speeches by Republican and Democratic leaders in  the Senate.  

“I am honored to nominate Linda Upmeyer of Cerro Gordo County to be the first female speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives,” said Mount Ayr Republican Cecil Dolocheck, putting Upmeyer’s name before the Iowa House.   She officially replaces former House Speaker Kraig Paulsen.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Texas Senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz is on a six-day, 28-county tour of the state, hoping to solidify his lead in the polls a month ahead of the February 1st caucuses. 

Hundreds of voters are turning out at venues in small towns.       

At a Christian bookstore in Boone, volunteer Benjamin Dorin hands out signup sheets for the Ted Cruz campaign.

"We’re just trying to get phone numbers and e-mail addresses," Dorrin said, before asking some people in the crowd to make room to allow everyone in from the cold.  

Photo by John Pemble

State education officials say they’ll spend the next 18 months figuring out what a new federal education law requires.  

President Obama signed the law replacing the controversial No Child Left Behind statute.  

The new law is dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act.

It gives more power back to the states for accountability, teacher evaluations, and how to push poorly performing schools to improve. 

Speaking to the state board of Education, Department of Education Director Ryan Wise says there’s a lot in the bill to digest.

The head of the governor’s office of drug control policy will ask state lawmakers to make it easier for doctors and pharmacies to use the state’s prescription drug monitoring program.    The program is designed to prevent the overprescribing of painkillers and other addictive drugs.   

Joyce Russell/IPR file photo

Governor Branstad has signed an executive order calling on state agencies to prepare for a possible cyber attack on Iowa infrastructure.    The Iowa National Guard, the Iowa Department of Public Safety, and others will draft a cyber-security strategy by July 1st.  State officials say, though, they are not aware of a credible threat at the present time.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

12-hundred people turned out at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Cedar Rapids on Saturday for a Donald Trump rally.   There were more men in the crowd, but the women who did show up were fully on board with Donald Trump.  

As the Iowa caucuses draw near, more women than men remain undecided in the Republican race for President.  But this group of Iowa women isn’t wavering.    

65-year old Mary Brandt is a childcare worker from Clutier.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The family of a Burlington woman who was shot and killed by police earlier this year won a victory today at the Iowa Public Information Board.  

The board agreed that body cam video of the shooting should be released to the public.  

Answering a domestic abuse call, Officer Jesse Hill shot and killed 34-year-old Autumn Steele after the family’s dog went after him.    

IowaPolitics.com

Now that he’s been recognized as the longest-serving governor in U.S. history, Governor Branstad says he has not decided whether to run for a seventh term in 2018.   

Branstad has made clear he’s grooming Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to become the state’s first female governor.     

However, he says he won’t decide until election year, following the lead of Governor Ray back in 1982.

“He was very popular and I was his third lieutenant governor,” Branstad says.  “He didn’t make the decision until February of the election year not to seek reelection.”

Iowa Department of Education

The Iowa Board of Education today agreed to ease up on a summer school mandate for students who don’t yet read at grade level.

It’s part of a new state law that will affect thousands of 3rd graders starting after the 2016-2017 school year. 

Some Republican lawmakers sought to hold back all 3rd graders not reading at grade level.  In a compromise with Democrats, the law mandates intensive summer instruction instead.  

Phil Wise with the Iowa Department of Education warns students will be held back if they don’t meet the summertime requirements.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad met wellwishers in his formal office this morning on his 7,640th day in office.   That makes him the longest-serving governor in U.S. history.  

Childhood friends and longtime supporters came to the open house to congratulate Branstad on the milestone.  

Branstad explains his longevity this way.

"Growing up on a farm and learning to work hard at an early age," Branstad says.  "I had great teachers who encouraged me to go into public service."

Daniel Filipe/flickr

Plant fossils at the Palenteology Depository at the University of Iowa are getting a new home and a new reorganization so they can be more useful to researchers around the world. 

Collections manager Tiffany Adrain says more than 20,000 specimens collected over the last ten years will be catalogued for the first time.  

They’re also being rehoused in a safer environment.

Officials at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown say a new World War II memorial now graces the grounds of the institution, following the earlier placement of monuments for other wars.   

The memorial was dedicated last month, less than a year after a Des Moines service group took on the project.  

Commandante Jodi Tymeson says a veteran at the home requested the memorial.

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Iowa Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer says the state is proceeding with a controversial plan to privatize the state’s health care program for the poor and disabled, in spite of a legal challenge by unsuccessful bidders for the contract. 

An administrative law judge will rule on complaints of irregularities in the choice of four companies to manage the more than four-billion dollar Medicaid program.     

Palmer says they’re proceeding with what they know.

“We'll operate from whatever we need to in response to that decision,” Palmer says.  

Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad Monday opened the door to the possibility of settling Syrian refugees in Iowa if a bill before Congress to tighten screening procedures becomes law.  

The bill would require that the director of the FBI and other top security officials approve all applicants from Syria and Iraq and assure they pose no threat.   

Otherwise, Branstad says letting the refugees in is not safe.

“If instead we're working as a country I'd feel much safer and more willing to do that,” Branstad says. 

Russell/IPR

Christian conservatives are weighing their options as the campaign  continues in Iowa for the Republican nomination for president.   Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson leads in Iowa polls among evangelicals.  Some pastors are shaking their heads that a non-politician is in the lead.   

Ron and Michelle Lovelein came to Des Moines Friday night from Eau Claire, Wisconsin for  a forum sponsored by the Christian conservative group The Family Leader.    They are keen on Ben Carson.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A years-long battle between Iowa’s community banks and its credit unions flared up at the capitol today, where a legislative committee is conducting a routine review of tax credits.  

The financial institutions are taxed differently, and banks argue it’s an unlevel playing field.  

Kevin VanderLee with the Iowa Bankers Association describes a new community bank that was started in Johnston.

“There were individuals who made their investment to start a bank,” VanderLee says.

Russell/IPR

Educators from the Council Bluffs School District joined the governor at his weekly news conference today with an enthusiastic report on the first year of Iowa’s new Teacher Leadership and Compensation Program, known as TLC.  

Eventually schools will get 150 million dollars a year to promote teachers from the classroom into mentoring roles. 

Superintendent Martha Bruckner says the mentors are helping both new and experienced teachers.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Update at 5:00pm: Late this afternoon, Gov. Branstad ordered all state agencies to stop any work on settlement of Syrian refugees.  

Original story: Several states are rethinking plans to accept refugees after the terrorist attacks in Paris. So far, Iowa is not among them.

Investigators say at least one of the Paris attackers slipped through Europe’s immigration system. 

Be.Futureproof/flickr

A psychiatrist at Veterans Hospital in Iowa City says more training in pain management may be needed for doctors getting licensed to practice in Iowa.  

At a drug abuse symposium in Iowa City last week, Dr. Anthony Miller discussed the overprescribing of pain medicine that’s become common in American medicine since the 1990’s.      

Miller says the Iowa Board of Medicine has taken some steps to inform doctors of the risks of prescribing opioids.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Police, prosecutors, and medical professionals  gathered in Iowa City yesterday to address the growing problem of heroin addiction in Iowa.       

They heard how overuse of prescription painkillers leads addicts to opt for heroin which is cheaper and easier to get.  

Heroin now rivals the methamphetamine epidemic.

Dr. Anthony Miller with Veterans Hospital in Iowa City says the heroin problem has its roots in the 1990’s when views on managing pain shifted in American medicine.   

Marie/flickr

Holding kids back if they don’t read at grade level by the end of third grade was on the agenda at the statehouse Tuesday. 

Education officials are writing the rules for a 2012 law that gives parents of struggling students a choice:  send them to summer school, or they won’t be promoted to fourth grade.  

Speaking before the Iowa Administrative Rules Review Committee, Department of Education spokesman Phil Wise recalls the education reform bill the legislature passed in 2012.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The Iowa National Guard has admitted two women to artillery units in Northwest Iowa for the first time in history.  

Officials say they expect to recruit more women, now that combat jobs are open to females. 

Iowa National Guard Adjutant General Timothy Orr says 18 percent of those serving in the Iowa Air Guard are women, with 15 percent in the Army Guard.

Orr would like to double that.

He says women in support units are already exposed to combat:

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Energy company Dakota Access wants to build a pipeline across Iowa to transport crude oil from North Dakota.   The company has initiated eminent domain proceedings against Iowa State University.  

But university officials say they’re willing to negotiate voluntary easements for the ISU property the pipeline would cross. 

Vice-President Warren Madden says the university will resist condemnation, but if the Iowa Utilities Board approves the project, then ISU is ready to negotiate terms.    

Joyce Russell/IPR

A statehouse committee spent the day Tuesday hearing about what’s being called a massive change in how health care in Iowa is delivered to the poor and disabled. 

Private companies are scheduled to take over management of the state-federal health care program known as Medicaid which serves more than 560-thousand Iowans.  

Critics worry about the effect on the state’s most vulnerable populations.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad says he will not intervene in the controversial Bakken Pipeline project which is under consideration by the Iowa Utilities Board.  

And he is downplaying landowners concerns.    

Dakota Access wants to crisscross the state with a pipeline to transport crude oil from North Dakota.   

Some landowners have not granted permission.    But Branstad argues the company won’t be taking their land.

Joyce Russell/IPR

There was emotional testimony at the statehouse today where the governor’s committee on racial disparities in Iowa’s criminal justice system was completing its work.   

The NAACP and others say the group’s recommendations do not go far enough to address the problem of disproportionate numbers of blacks in Iowa prisons.  

With a limited mandate, the committee recommends making jury pools more inclusive, keeping juvenile court records private, expanding drug courts, and cutting prison phone call costs.  

Photo by John Pemble

The Iowa Court of Appeals today ruled in favor of a complainant in a sexual harassment case.  

The case alleges violations of Iowa’s Civil Rights statute by Iowa Senate Republicans.

Senate Republicans fired Kristen Anderson from her job as communications director in May of 2013 alleging poor job performance.   Anderson claimed she was fired for reporting sexual harassment on the job. 

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