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.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Gov. Kim Reynolds today signed her first bill into law as the state’s chief executive, approving water quality legislation while surrounded in her formal office by supporters from inside and outside the legislature.   

Senate File 512 appropriates $282 million over the next 12 years to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus flowing into Iowa waterways.     

It’s designed to help the state meet the goals of its Nutrient Reduction Strategy to reduce nutrients in the water by 45 percent.

Reynolds said good work is already being done on the farm.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Opponents of a bill backers say would outlaw so-called sanctuary cities in Iowa filled a committee room to overflowing at the statehouse today.

The bill would deny state funds to any community that approves policies to prevent local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. Under the bill, communities would be required to detain a jailed person for possible deportation at the request of federal officials. 

John Pemble / IPR

The first month of the 2018 legislative session comes to a close this week. Here are a few takeaways from IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell:

Ninja Cherepashka/flickr

As large consolidated rural school districts struggle with soaring transportation costs, a bill advanced in the Iowa Senate that could reduce costs for some districts.  

Under current Iowa law, one-way bus rides are limited to 60 minutes for elementary students and 75 minutes for secondary students.    

The bill would allow 75 minute one-way bus rides for elementary students, or even longer rides for students of any age if public hearings are held and parents are notified 30 days before a route is changed.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Majority Republicans in the Iowa Senate Thursday unveiled proposed budget cuts for the fiscal year that ends in June, trimming higher education and the courts more than Gov. Reynolds recommended.   

The proposal has led a Regents university spokesman and a state court administrator to warn of significant consequences if the cuts become law.

John Pemble/IPR

Advocates for and against gun rights spoke out at the Capitol today on a proposed amendment to the Iowa constitution.   

The amendment states that Iowans’ rights to acquire, keep, possess, transport, carry, transfer, and use arms for all legitimate purposes shall not be infringed, and that courts should strictly scrutinize any attempt to regulate them.    

Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley) said the amendment backs up second amendment rights already secured by the U.S. Constitution

John Pemble/IPR

The state’s largest agriculture organization, the Iowa Farm Bureau, came in for bitter criticism in the Iowa Senate, one day after a Farm Bureau-backed water quality bill gained final passage in the Iowa House.   

Iowa is under pressure to reduce nitrates and phosphorus in waterways by 45 percent.

The bill, which awaits the governor’s signature, spends $282 million over the next 12 years, or about $27 million a year, to meet Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

But some experts put the cost of cleaning nutrients out of the water at $4 billion.

Joyce Russell/IPR

For the third year in a row, the Iowa House Tuesday morning took up water quality legislation, and by noon a bill finally passed on a mostly partisan vote.   

The legislation, which is now on its way to the governor, spends millions of dollars on water quality improvement projects over the next decade.       

But the final version pitted farm groups against environmentalists and there was bitter debate.  

John Pemble/IPR

As a state lawmaker steps down from a key legislative post after a drunk driving arrest, he’s getting sympathy from the top elected official in the state, Gov. Kim Reynolds.   

Rep. Chip Baltimore (R-Boone) was arrested on Friday.  He says he plans to plead guilty to drunk driving and possessing a weapon while intoxicated.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer Monday removed Baltimore from his post as chair of the Judiciary Committee. 

State Capitol Ceiling
John Pemble / IPR

Iowa legislators have said that addressing the state's water quality is a priority.  During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Mary Skopec, who is executive director of Iowa's Lakeside Laboratory. She says that the problem with nutrient run-off from the state's 29 million acres of agricultural land is not the only issue to be addressed—it is a part of the problem. 

While lawmakers in Washington DC are negotiating to reopen. Lawmakers in Iowa are still open for business. Here are a few issues to expect in the week ahead from IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The head of the Iowa Department of Human Services took tough questions yesterday at the statehouse about a report commissioned following the deaths of two young Iowans who were adopted out of foster care.   An outside agency looked at Iowa’s foster care system and at the caseloads for DHS social workers.   Director Jerry Foxhoven said the problems won’t be solved overnight.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill to ease the penalties for first-time possession of small amounts of marijuana cleared a Republican-dominated panel at the statehouse Thursday.  GOP lawmakers stressed that marijuana would still be illegal, but possessing five grams or less would be a simple misdemeanor instead of a serious misdemeanor.  Urbandale Republican Brad Zaun says youthful indiscretion is penalized too harshly under the current law:

John Pemble/IPR

The head of the Iowa Department of Human Services Wednesday admitted problems with Iowa’s new family planning program that takes the place of Planned Parenthood clinics around the state.      

After lawmakers said no state money should go to clinics that perform abortions, the state is redirecting funds to other clinics for subsidized birth control.      

Director Jerry Foxhoven took questions about the program in an appearance before the Senate Human Resources Committee.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

A coalition of more than two dozen state, local, and national organizations rallied at the statehouse today against the proliferation of large hog confinement operations known as CAFOs, which they say have diminished the quality of life in the Iowa countryside.   

The Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture is calling for a moratorium on new large hog operations until fewer than 100 Iowa waterways remain impaired.   

It’s one of a package of 15 bills offered by Senator David Johnson (I-Ocheyedan) to strengthen regulation of hog farms.

Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio

Lawmakers return to the capitol Tuesday after the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The 2018 session started last week. Here are takeaways from IPR’s Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell says going into week two.

Joyce Russell/IPR

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Grassley  (R-New Hartford) is warning about competition from a proposed new Indian-run casino in Carter Lake in southwest Iowa.  

At a statehouse budget briefing, Grassley said if the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska proceeds with its plans, the new casino would draw gamblers away from the three state-regulated casinos in Council Bluffs.  

Those include Ameristar, Harrah’s and Horseshoe.   

John Pemble/IPR

The Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court Mark Cady Wednesday painted a worsening picture of the condition of the Iowa justice system, after years of declining or status quo budgets for the judicial branch.  

In his Condition of the Judiciary Address, Justice Cady said that insufficient resources are beginning to “tear at the fabric of the mission of the courts” to provide justice for all Iowans.  

The judicial branch workforce was cut this year by 10 percent and there are over 115 unfilled positions, including 11 district court judgeships.

John Pemble/IPR

Gov. Kim Reynolds delivered a 43-minute Condition of the State Address to a joint convention of the Iowa House and Senate Tuesday, the first ever by a woman in the state’s history.   She laid out her agenda for the upcoming legislative session, and took the bully pulpit on the issue of sexual harassment.   

Reynolds received an unusually long standing ovation….just for showing up.

“It's an honor to be here today as your 43rd governor and to deliver my first Condition of the State address,” Reynolds began.   

John Pemble / IPR

At the capitol, state lawmakers gaveled in for their 2018 legislative session.

Majority Republicans are promising a pro-growth, low tax agenda and a balanced budget before they head home to face the voters.     

Minority Democrats are warning that Iowans are paying attention, after last year’s conservative program was signed into law.

Republicans started off the day with their traditional fundraising breakfast in downtown Des Moines, since they can’t raise money for their campaigns once the legislature convenes.       

John Pemble / IPR

There was a spirit of optimism in the air as state lawmakers gaveled in the 2018 session. Opening day often brings talk of bipartisanship and cooperation, but that spirit never seems to last, especially in an election year.

Nevertheless, state Senator Pam Jochum, a Dubuque Democrat, struck a hopeful tone about the coming session, although her party is in the minority in a Senate controlled by Republicans 29 to 20. She says last session they made their voices heard.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

State lawmakers return to the capitol Monday for their 2018 legislative session.  Majority Republicans achieved many conservative priorities last year, including scaling back collective bargaining restricting abortions, and expanding gun rights. More Republican initiatives are on the agenda this year.     

At the December meeting of the Revenue Estimating Conference, once again, analysts revised downward their estimates of tax receipts flowing into state coffers.  

Gov. Reynolds’ top budget aide said once again it will be status quo spending at best next year.

Wikimedia Commons

An out-of-state Democratic group is targeting an Iowa statehouse race, hoping to turn a Republican house seat from red to blue.   

The volunteer organization Postcards to Voters is sending hand-written, hand-designed postcards urging Democrats in House District 6 in Sioux City to go to the polls to elect Democrat Rita De Jong in a special election on January 16. 

Postcards to Voters founder Tony McMullin says they target special elections around the country when 

turnout is usually low and where there’s a chance to flip a seat from the GOP to the Democrats.    

Tim Whelan/flickr

Truck drivers, bus drivers, and other operators of commercial vehicles could be more likely to lose their licenses for texting while driving, under legislation the Iowa Department of Transportation will ask state lawmakers to approve this year.  

Operators of commercial vehicles in Iowa are already pulled over and fined for texting or operating a handheld mobile phone, but it’s a general citation for violating federal rules.   

Iowa law does not spell out a specific cellphone citation for operators of commercial vehicles.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

Ambassador Terry Branstad is back home in Iowa for the first time since assuming his post in China, arriving for his brother’s funeral in Winnebago County on Monday, and planning to spend the holidays here. 

Branstad traveled back to the state with his wife Chris, daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughters.   They will attend Christmas Mass at Christ the King Church in Des Moines and return to China on January 3rd.

Branstad was working at a desk in the governor’s offices Wednesday, catching up on ambassador business.   

USMC/Wikimedia Commons

Kim Reynolds’ administration is backing off proposed rules for guns in Iowa day cares, something the Department of Human Services up to now has not addressed.    

DHS was scheduled to present the proposed rules before state lawmakers last week, but the item was  pulled from the Administrative Rules Review Committee agenda.  

At her weekly news conference, Reynolds said they want to hear from all stakeholders first.

“We hadn’t done that,” Reynolds said.   “We want to make sure we're looking at that from all perspectives.” 

Joyce Russell/IPR

State legislators of both parties Monday grilled representatives of the for-profit companies who manage Iowa’s health care program for the poor and disabled, after a report was released about how many patients are losing health care services.  

The director of the Managed Care Ombudsman Program presented the report to the legislature’s Health Policy Oversight Committee.

It showed that denial, reduction, or termination of services is the number one complaint of Medicaid recipients under the privatized program.

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Statehouse Republicans are interviewing candidates, hoping to have a new human resources professional on hand before the legislature reconvenes next month.  

The new position is being created after a former GOP Senate staffer won a $1.75 million settlement alleging a sexually-charged work environment.

inkknife_2000/flickr

A north Iowa business consultant is painting a picture of deteriorating finances for Iowa farmers, as the agricultural economy continues to languish.    

David Underwood of Mason City  is one of three members of the Revenue Estimating Conference, which this week predicted essentially flat state tax collections this year due in part to weakness in the farm sector.      

Underwood said up to now, farmers had enough reserves to get them through the recent lean times.

Kay Henderson

The former state senator who has agreed to advise the Iowa Senate on sexual harassment issues says it was a problem during her tenure, and she wishes she had set up a policy to address it back then.

Ambassador Mary Kramer who had a long career as a human resource manager in the private sector served in the Senate from 1990 to 2003, including two terms as president.  

In a taping for Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, Kramer said while she was Senate president, she handled sexual harassment complaints.

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