Joyce Russell


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

Governor Branstad Monday went to a John Deere dealership in Perry to sign a bill to facilitate more broadband in Iowa.     

It’s dubbed the Connect Acre Bill, and Branstad says agriculture is just one business that will benefit from more high-speed internet access.   

The bill includes property tax breaks for communications companies to build out broadband to underserved areas, but not the five million dollars in grants the governor asked for. 

Photo by John Pemble

It appears that Governor Branstad is not ruling out an appeal of Friday’s Iowa Supreme Court ruling clearing the way for continued use of so-called telemed abortions.  

The court ruled that the Iowa Board of Medicine placed an unconstitutional burden on women when it banned the administration of abortion-inducing drugs without a doctor in the room. 

Under the procedure, a doctor uses two-way telecommunication to oversee a patient taking an abortion-inducing drug. Governor Branstad disagrees with the ruling.

Photo by John Pemble

Iowa’s two Republican U.S. Senators Tuesday split their votes on a measure to strengthen the U.S. ban on torturing detainees.  

Senator Chuck Grassley voted yes on an amendment to bolster current law and give the Red Cross access to all detainees.   Senator Joni Ernest was among 21 Senators voting no.

“It is not wise to let our enemies known what our techniques are--that allows them to train, resist, and defeat it," Ernst said.

She says the president should be able to authorize torture if there’s a potential threat against Americans. 

Clay Masters/IPR

Iowa Republican U.S. Senator Joni Ernst says new rules to combat sexual assault in the military are working.    And she says more time is needed before taking more difficult steps to address the problem.  

Ernst voted Tuesday against taking the commanding officer out of the decision to prosecute offenders.   

Ernst says she doesn’t want to tie the hands of a commanding officer who may want to prosecute an offender.    

She says a December survey shows military personnel are expressing more trust in their commanding officers.

Joyce Russell/IPR

By a vote of seven to two, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission Tuesday sided with developers over environmentalists and homeowners when it comes to putting back topsoil after new homes and businesses go up.     

The new rules will no longer require at least four inches of topsoil.     

Federal rules require restoration of topsoil to prevent stormwater runoff, but developers say Iowa’s standard is too strict.      

Photo by John Pemble

Governor Branstad today offered sympathy to the family of an Iowa Children’s Museum employee who was shot and killed inside the Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville on Friday.   

Andrea Farrington, 20, of Cedar Rapids had reportedly complained that the suspect in the shooting had been watching her and leaving notes on her car. Governor Branstad is not ruling out new legislation on stalking as a result of the shooting.

Photo by John Pemble/IPR

Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wrapped up a three day campaign swing through Iowa Sunday, and he had harsh words for Hillary Clinton on the issue of international trade.  

At a state fairgrounds rally, Clinton said she can’t say whether she supports a bill in Congress giving the President so-called fast track trade authority to facilitate a Pacific trade deal.  

Clinton says she needs to see what’s really in the bill.

Spring Dew/flickr

Utility employees from out-of-state who come in and save the day when there’s a major power outage would get some help at tax-filing time, under a bill state lawmakers have approved and sent to the governor. 

If Gov. Branstad signs the bill, employees who, for example, come to Iowa from Wisconsin would no longer have Iowa taxes withheld no matter how much money they earn here. 

Victoria Danielson at the Iowa Department of Revenue says the change will streamline tax-filing for the workers.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Hillary Clinton officially launched her campaign for the Democratic nomination for president this weekend.   On Sunday she wrapped up a two-day organizing tour of Iowa.     An army of volunteers, clipboards in hand, began the hard work of lining up Democrats to come out and caucus for Clinton in February.   

Doors were scheduled to open at 10:30 in the morning for an event at the Elwell Center at the state fairgrounds. Middle school English teacher Mike Sorenson from Fredericksburg was standing in line well before that on a cloudy humid day.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The Iowa Utilities Board has issued a schedule of deadlines for the controversial Bakken crude oil pipeline which would criss-cross the state from northwest to southeast.   

The schedule indicates the board will rule on the Dakota Access application by December or January.      

Dakota Access is a subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer.The pipeline would transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota.  

John Pemble / IPR

State lawmakers have gone home for the legislative session. It was another year of Republicans controlling the Iowa House and Democrats leading the Iowa Senate. Morning Edition Host Clay Masters checks in with IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell one last time about the lengthy legislative session. 

Clay Masters/IPR

Seven candidates and one potential candidate for the Republican nomination for president were on hand at the Central Iowa Expo in Boone on Saturday for a fundraiser hosted by Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst.  

The expo grounds are also this year’s site for the Iowa GOP’s traditional cattle call for candidates, the Iowa Straw Poll.   

Ben Barringer, a software engineer, drove down to Boone from Lake Mills in far north Iowa with a couple of potential favorite candidates in mind

“I’m very excited for Ted Cruz and Scott Walker,” Barringer says.   

Photo by John Pemble

Budget disputes prevailed to the very end, as the Iowa legislature today wrapped up its 2015 legislative session.    It now remains to be seen if the governor signs all of the roughly seven-point-three billion dollars in spending approved in the waning days.  

It was the  145th day of what was supposed to be a 110 day session.     

As the Senate put its finishing touches on education funding,    Ames Democrat Herman Quirmbach got in one last complaint.

“This bill is a band aid on a festering sore in the area of education,” Quirmbach says.


It's clear that the sale of so-called farm-raised deer will be taxed under a bill that passed in the final hours of the 2015 legislative session.   Debate was marked by passionate input from a leading hunting advocate in the Iowa Senate. 

Up to now, some farmers had been considering the sales to be tax-exempt in the manner of the sales of other livestock such as hogs or cattle.

Des Moines Democrat Dick Dearden says deer which are raised on farms to be sold to preserves are not raised for meet, as other farm animals are.     They’re raised for their antlers.

John Pemble/IPR

The Iowa House and Senate have reached a compromise on Governor Branstad’s proposal to encourage more broadband in the state, one of his top priorities for two years in a row.  

It’s one of several pieces that are falling into place as lawmakers strive toward adjournment.  

A House-passed bill offered property tax abatements for communications companies that expand broadband into underserved areas.   But Senate Democrats questioned   whether more Iowans would actually be served.


A fight by Iowa cities over where communications  companies can erect cellphone towers has been resolved at the statehouse.  

That eliminates one more roadblock as lawmakers slog toward adjournment of the 2015 session.  

Des Moines Democrat Janet Peterson says interested parties hammered out an agreement on how much say-so cities can have.

‘We had a number of concessions where the League of Cities came together,” Peterson.   “They said they thought they could live with the changes that are being made.”

John Pemble/IPR

After weeks of bipartisan negotiations, the Iowa House and Senate last night defied the governor, and voted to have the state continue to operate the Mental Health Institute at Mount Pleasant.  

A spokesman for Governor Branstad says he will carefully review the bill.

By a comfortable margin in the Senate, and a narrow margin in the House, a Health and Human Services budget was approved to hire back laid-off workers at Mount Pleasant and restore mental health services.   Clarinda will stay open through December with a plan to privatize services after that.  

Angelo Mercado/flickr

With some opposition, the Iowa Senate today approved a resolution that will allow the Meskwaki settlement near Tama to assume jurisdiction for criminal justice.

Tama County oversees law enforcement and prosecutions at the settlement.  

The resolution asks the federal government to repeal a 1948 law giving the state of Iowa oversight of offenses by Meskwakis against Meskwakis.  

State Center Democrat Steve Sodders says tribal leaders  have been asking for this for a long time.

John Pemble/IPR

Iowa House and Senate leaders are expressing optimism that a proposed budget for higher education will be enough to fund a tuition freeze at the Regents universities for the third year in a row.   But a Regents spokesman declined to comment on the effect on university budgets until full details are released. 

 Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal says a tentative budget deal worked out last week includes a one-point-two-five percent increase for the Regents schools.

John Pemble/IPR

UPDATE:  6/1/2015 3:00 p.m. House Republicans and Senate Democrats released more details of the budget agreement reached last week.


John Pemble/IPR

The Iowa Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit that challenged Governor Branstad’s decision to close the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo last year.  

Democratic lawmakers and a public employee union leader sued, claiming the governor exceeded his authority by closing the home after the legislature appropriated money to run it.    

The court ruled the case is moot since no money was appropriated to reopen the home.  

Jim Wall/flickr

It would be easier for farmers to receive a sales tax exemption on off-road vehicles under a bill still eligible for passage by the 2015 legislature. 

Farmers get a sales tax exemption for machinery and equipment used for farming, including ATV’s.    But the law says the vehicle must be used directly for production agriculture.  

Victoria Daniels at the Department of Revenue says by law you can’t use the vehicle  “in preparation for or subsequent to” agricultural production.   She says that’s hard to enforce.

Ted Murphy/flickr

A new tax break for Iowa’s casino industry has so far not made it through the Iowa legislature. 

But backers say if it doesn’t pass this year, they will bring the issue back in 2016.  

Wes Ehrecke with the Iowa Gaming Association says casinos shouldn’t have to pay state sales tax on the full amount if a gambler is paying part of his bill with a coupon.

“You have a tax on unreal money, it’s fake money, it’s a coupon,” Ehrecke says. “And  when you go to Kohl’s or Hy-Vee or somewhere and you get a $20, coupon the business doesn’t pay tax on that.” 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Parents of grown children who died from drug overdose were at the capitol today lobbying for legislation they say might have saved lives.

Activists wore shirts bearing the name of Andy Lamp, a Davenport man who died of an overdose of heroin at the age of 33.    

His mother Kim Brown says a friend who was with him at the time was unable to help.

“He died May 25, 2011 of an accidental overdose,” Brown says.  “He wasn’t alone and I’m here in support of our overdose prevention bill.”

Photo by John Pemble

Another partisan battle is underway at the statehouse over school aid, this time for the school year that starts next fall in 2016.   

Disagreement over K-12 schools for this fall is preventing adjournment of the legislature. Now Republicans and Democrats are millions of dollars apart for next year’s budget.  

Republicans say an uncertain economy requires restraint in spending for schools.  

Iowa City Democrat Mary Mascher criticizes Republicans for proposing tax cuts when she says school needs are going unmet.  

Photo by John Pemble

A tentative deal to keep Iowa’s mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda open longer is meeting with stiff opposition from Democrats in the Iowa Senate. 

As part of the deal, there would no longer be any reference in Iowa law to the two institutes, nor to the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo. 

Negotiators say the governor agreed to keep the institutes open through December 15, instead of closing them next month, but only if all references to the three facilities are stricken from Iowa law books. 

Photo by John Pemble

Sorting out Iowa’s state budget for fiscal year 2016 has been contentious, specifically where K-12 education is concerned. In Wisconsin, they’re facing the same issue, with a governor who is gearing up for a possible presidential run.

“That’s been a favorite line of state Democrats this session, ‘Well, we could ask Governor Walker about this if he were here,’” says Wisconsin Public Radio Statehouse Reporter Shawn Johnson.

Children and Young People's Research Network/flickr

A $3 million state program to support treatment of autism in children will continue under a social services bill making its way through the legislature. But one backer wants a change in how the money is spent.   

Mount Pleasant Republican David Heaton says the program has faltered, not through lack of interest, but through lack of expertise in treating autism.       

Photo by John Pemble

State lawmakers return to the capitol today for their third week of overtime, while the two parties remain divided over the state budget for the fiscal year that starts in July. 

Most of the work this week will be behind closed doors as the House, the Senate, and the Governor’s office strive toward a budget agreement. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen (R- Hiawatha) says House Republicans have not signed on to a tentative agreement on funding for K-12 schools.

Photo by John Pemble

A sellout crowd of 1,300 activists from forty of Iowa’s ninety-nine counties turned out for the Republican Party of Iowa’s annual Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines.  Eleven declared or potential Republican presidential candidates for President were each given ten minutes to speak.  David Meyer, a small business owner from Altoona, says the field for the Republican nomination for president is wide open. “We came specifically to hear them all, because there is not currently a name that leaps to the top of the page,” says Meyer.