John Pemble

Arts and Culture Reporter

John Pemble is the Arts and Culture reporter at Iowa Public Radio. In 1989, John began his Iowa Public Radio career in Fort Dodge as a program host for jazz, classical, and contemporary instrumental music programs. He joined Iowa Public Radio’s news department in 2008 to produce arts and culture stories.

John spent ten years as an adjunct professor for Iowa Central Community College’s broadcasting department teaching production and operations classes.

John's favorite public radio program is Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

RDG Planning & Design

In 2018, Varsity movie theater in Des Moines closed after an 80-year run. Now the nonprofit Des Moines Film Society wants to reopen it.

President of the Film Society’s board of directors, Ben Godar, says his four-year-old organization has been looking for its own home to screen independent films and hold events.

“We’ve tried to tie in a lot of education where we can to our screenings, have filmmakers in person, things like that,” says Godar. “Having our own facility is just going to give us more and more tools to do those kind of things.”

The 50th anniversary of Earth Day is Wednesday but organizers of environmental awareness activities this week had to cancel planned gatherings.  That includes Iowa State University Extension Outreach’s program “Water Rocks!” The staff visits Iowa schools throughout the year to hold water quality assemblies. 

Outreach specialist Hilary Pierce says since they can’t go to schools, they are encouraging students to commemorate Earth Day this week by gathering objects from nature to create a work of art.

Suspending Session

Mar 17, 2020
John Pemble / IPR

With the coronavirus reaching community spread, Gov. Kim Reynolds and legislative leaders are suspending the 2020 legislative session. In order to do this, first the House and Senate must meet to pass some spending measures and a resolution. In this podcast episode, we bring you the final day of the session before they pause for 30 days.

John Pemble / IPR

The Revenue Estimating Conference meets to share a forecast of how much revenue the state will take in. For Fiscal Year 2020, things are on track from previous estimates, but FY 2021 is revised downward a bit over concerns about coronavirus. As of Thursday March 12, legislative leaders and the governor have not called to pause the session or restrict public access to the Capitol over coronavirus concerns. The 2017 Cannabidiol Act is revised this year in the House. The same was attempted last year, but the governor vetoed the bill. This year’s proposal has the THC at a lesser potency than last year’s bill. A bill passes the House that would require more information for asbestos lawsuits, including a complete work history.

Making Compromises

Mar 6, 2020
John Pemble / IPR

Three weeks ago the Senate and House passed different funding levels for K-12 public education. This week the chambers announced a compromise and now schools know where to set the budgets they will be submitting in April. A bill to help citizens of Puerto Rico move to Iowa for jobs passes a subcommittee, but with a much lower level of funding that originally proposed. Another House subcommittee moves forward a bill that passed in the Senate last year changing language and penalties in Iowa’s code concerning the termination of a pregnancy without the mother's consent. And the Senate passes a bill that puts additional requirements on a proposed constitutional amendment restoring a felon’s right to vote.

John Pemble / IPR

The governor appoints hundreds of people to positions requiring Senate confirmation. This week some of the individuals making it through the required two-thirds majority vote are Department of Natural Resources director Kayla Lyon and Department of Human Services director Kelly Kennedy Garcia. The Senate takes up a bill requiring a third-party vendor to verify the income of a person on a public assistance program. And the House holds a public hearing on a controversial constitutional amendment stating the state constitution does not guarantee access to abortion services.

John Pemble / IPR

During funnel week, dozens of bills come before subcommittees hoping to make it past the committee level to stay in play for the rest of the session. One bill that would add clarity about “bona fide religious purpose” to Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965 doesn't make it. Legislators say the language is too broad for it to advance. A bill requiring vaccination information to be on a child's death certificate passes a committee and is eligible for floor detate. And two bills about Iowa’s 41-year-old can and bottle redemption program come before subcommittees.

John Pemble / IPR

One of the first legislative debates of the year is over school state aid. Forty-three percent of the state’s budget goes to K-12 public education. This year the Senate and House are at odds over how much to increase funding. A bill in the House Education subcommittee has advanced that would require K-12 schools to notify parents if sexual orientation or gender identity are part of curriculum or school instruction of any kind. Parents would have the option of excusing the student from participating. And compensating college athletes for the use of their likeness would no longer be prohibited under a bill from a Senate subcommitte

John Pemble / IPR

Directors of state agencies visit appropriations subcommittees to explain their department goals, budget needs, and to answer legislators questions. The Iowa Department of Revenue director Craig Paulsen and deputy director Mory Mosiman speak about IT upgrades and improvements made in their taxpayer call center. A House subcommittee passes a bill that would fine drivers for using electronic communication devices. In the Senate, a subcommittee advances a bill expanding veterans drug treatment courts.


Jan 31, 2020
John Pemble / IPR

Current law does not allow barbers in Iowa to cut hair in a mobile facility, but a bill is gaining support to change that as a Waterloo barber visits the Capitol to convince lawmakers.

There is a proposal from the governor to cut income taxes and raise the state sales tax. The Legislative Services Agency makes an extensive analysis of this proposal and also a short explainer video

Lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment that requires a two thirds majority to raise income taxes.

A Changing Judiciary

Jan 24, 2020
John Pemble / IPR

Last year a law changed how justices make their way to the bench.  Senate Republicans supported the change because they claim some court rulings are examples of “judicial activism.”  Acting Chief Justice David Wiggins says the job of the court is to make sure laws don’t violate the constitution. This year, Senate Republicans are trying to pass a state constitutional amendment in response to a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling about abortion access. This is also happening at a time when the governor will be appointing two new justices to the high court in 2020.

John Pemble / IPR

The Iowa General Assembly lasts two years.  As legislators pick up where they left off in 2019, we hear priorities from both parties and Gov. Kim Reynolds lays out her budget and policy proposals in the Condition of the State. The first week of this session also has new leadership roles for the majority party in the House of Representatives.

Cedar Bridge Reopens

Oct 14, 2019
Sarah Boden/IPR file

A historic bridge in Madison County reopened over the weekend during the annual Covered Bridge Festival. Two-and-a-half years ago it was destroyed by an act of arson.  The rebuilding of the Cedar Bridge cost nearly $750,000 and had to be paid for by donations and grants because it wasn’t insured.

Iowa State Fair Begins

Aug 8, 2019
John Pemble / IPR

During a rainy opening ceremony this morning, Iowa State Fair CEO Gary Slater highlighted some of the improvements to the grounds like expansions made to the grandstand.

“We’ve sold a record number of tickets already,” said Slater. “Over a 120,000 have seen sold beating last year’s by over 30,000 tickets.”

One of the groups performing at the grandstand is the Iowa heavy metal band Slipknot. The show sold out months ago, just a few days after tickets went on sale.

John Pemble

This program originally aired on 8-15-18.


Corn dogs, baby ducks, and a butter cow to boot!


The Iowa State Fair is a time-honored tradition for many Iowans, and has gained a reputation for being one of the largest fairs in the nation.


Do you remember your first fair? 

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

This is the last week for the 2019 Iowa Legislative Session. It was scheduled for 110 days,but ended a bit early on day 104.

This is also the last episode for this year’s podcast. On this final episode, we cover the passage of the sports betting bill. It legalizes both sports wagering and fantasy sports. In May 2018, the United States Supreme Court made a ruling allowing state to add sports wagering.  So far eight states have done so.

iowa capitol
John Pemble / IPR

Gov. Kim Reynolds invited Republicans to a press conference to announce the creation of a Flood Recovery Advisory Board.  She says it will help decide what to do and how to use funds from the federal and state level. The governor is asking legislators to make $15 million available from fiscal year 2019’s ending balance go to the flood mitigation fund.  She’s also asking for $10 million in the next fiscal year for the Workforce Housing Tax Credits to accelerate housing improvements in flooded areas.

John Pemble / IPR

In the first month of the legislative session it’s common to see heads of large departments visit a committee to explain their budget requests. In January, the Department of Transportation asked for $259 million dollars for its highway division.

The DOT set aside $13 million a year to buy 225,000 tons of salt. Normally they use 156,000 tons in a season.  In February, Iowa received record or near record amounts of snowfall and the DOT used a lot of salt on the roads.

John Pemble / IPR

Some bills move through a chamber quickly.  A bill changing the testing to obtain a teaching license passes in the Senate after three and half minutes of discussion. In the House, the discussion is quite different.

John Pemble / IPR

Every year, the Herbert Hoover Foundation awards two members of the Iowa legislature the Uncommon Public Service Award.  Only a few people in the House and Senate chambers know who the recipient of the award will be until it is announced. Like previous winners, legislators Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, and Rep. John Forbes, D-Urbandale, had no idea they were being honored until it was announced on the chamber floor.

John Pemble / IPR

There are around 650,000 people enrolled for Medicaid in Iowa. Around 170,000 are through the Iowa Health and Wellness plan.  Under a bill in the Senate, 40 percent of those on the Iowa Health and Wellness plan will need have part time work or volunteer to say on the program.

The work requirement has 11 exemptions. They include those who are pregnant, disabled, in rehab or enrolled in the Future Ready Iowa program. It’s estimated the implimenting the reporting requirement will cost $5 million in the first year and $12 million each subsequent year.

John Pemble / IPR

The governor appoints hundreds of people to serve in state departments. The roles range from board member, director, or member of a judicial nominating commission.  All of these individuals require confirmation by the Senate by a two thirds majority for them to continue in their appointed role.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

March 8 was the deadline for most bills and resolutions to pass a House or a Senate committee. Most of those that haven’t are no longer eligible for a subcommittee. Exceptions include appropriations, ways and means and government oversite. There are others ways a bill subject to the deadline could emerge later, but most won’t. This is also called the "funnel deadline."

The 2019 Iowa Legislative Session is scheduled for 110 days. That's 16 weeks, so it’s likely we are in the middle of this session.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Part of a 2017 law that banned abortions after 20 weeks included a provision that a woman must wait 72 hours after the initial doctor consultation to have the procedure. In June, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled the 72 hour waiting period was unconstitutional.


John Pemble / IPR

A House subcommittee bill is discussed that would prohibit a person from running as a non-party political organization candidate if they lose a Democratic or Republican primary. Another bill with a similar goal would require candidates from any party to file their nominating papers with the secretary of state on the same date.

John Pemble / IPR File Photo

To amend the state constitution, two consecutive Iowa General Assemblies must approve a resolution. Then it must be approved by Iowa voters. But first, the Secretary of State must publish the amendment in newspapers.

John Pemble/IPR

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, wants to expand marijuana access in Iowa.  Bolkcom says marijuana should be regulated and taxed like alcohol. Other states have legalized marijuana use in some form but it is still illegal under federal law, and it is unlikely Iowa legislators will take action.

But legislators are considering bills that would legalize sports betting.  In May 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that allows states to have this form of gambling. Eight states have legalized sports betting and Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, wants Iowa to be next.

steven holt
John Pemble / IPR

This week, the Iowa House voted for the first time in this General Assembly, but there wasn’t anything ordinary about this one.  During the election for House District 55, the incumbent Rep. Michael Bergan, R-Dorchester, won by nine votes.

Ballots arrived in Winneshiek County without postmarks and the county auditor tossed them. The Democratic challenger Kay Koether sued to have the ballots counted. A judge ordered the barcodes on the envelopes be scanned to determine if they were sent before Election Day. The scans indicate they were.

John Pemble / IPR

IPERS is the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System, and has 360,000 members.  In 2017, a bill in the Senate proposed creating an alternative defined contribution plan for new state employees, but it didn’t go anywhere.  Democrats have expressed concerns about any change to IPERS and it was often a talking point during last year’s election.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Like with the last Iowa General Assembly, Republicans control the House, Senate, and the governor’s office. But this session begins without a revenue shortfall. It also begins in the first few weeks of a new Iowa tax code passed by the legislature last year.