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

A partisan fight has erupted between the Republican legislature and Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller as lawmakers try to finalize a state budget and adjourn for the year.   

Republicans have warned the AG to back off civil suits against the Trump administration, or face a cut in his office budget.  

Miller has joined numerous multi-state challenges against the administration over a range of issues.  

Sarah Boden/IPR File

Abortion opponents in the Iowa legislature have added language to a budget bill that will divert more federal funds away from Planned Parenthood because the organization performs abortions. 

Under the bill, Planned Parenthood would no longer be eligible for grants for sex education programs.  That follows last year’s legislation banning family planning grants for abortion providers.

If the new legislation becomes law, the health care provider would lose approximately $130,000 from the federal Community Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention program.      

Joyce Russell/IPR

The 2018 tax cut debate continued at the statehouse Wednesday with a “walk-through” of the general outlines of a plan agreed to by Republicans in the House, Senate, and governor’s office.

Democrats lashed out against the latest version of the bill cutting income taxes and eventually corporate taxes by $2.8 billion over six years.

It’s a must-do for majority Republicans before they bring the overtime 2018 legislative session to a close.   

Iowa General Assembly Website

Iowa’s decades-old energy efficiency programs will be reduced by about two-thirds under a bill that gained final approval in the Iowa Senate last night, in spite of a last-ditch effort by Democrats to defeat it.  

The Senate approved SF2311 on a strict party-line vote of 28 to 20.    It goes now to the governor. 

Under the bill, a smaller portion of Iowans’ electric and gas bills will go into an energy efficiency fund that pays for rebates for energy efficiency appliances and retrofitting homes.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Reynolds Monday took questions on an upcoming outside review of the Iowa Finance Authority, where Director Dave Jamison was fired after serious allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace.  

Reynolds announced Friday that Des Moines attorney Mark Weinhardt will investigate the conduct that led to Jamison’s firing and any similar incidents during his tenure as executive director.

Initially Reynolds implied that firing Jamison was enough to address the allegations.  

She says she now seeks an outside review on the advice of the attorney general.

John Pemble / IPR

Lawmakers are in the third week of overtime at the Iowa capitol. Late on Friday afternoon, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds announced she and the House and Senate had reached a tax cut deal. It came on the heels of new information regarding sexual harassment at the Iowa Finance Authority.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Gov. Kim Reynolds Thursday released a redacted letter from a state employee describing overt sexual harassment over three years by former Iowa Finance Authority Director Dave Jamison, who is also a longtime friend of the governor. 

Jamison was fired on March 24th, less than 24 hours after the employee came forward.  

Requests have mounted since then for more information about the case, which the letter released Thursday provides.

John Pemble/IPR

This year’s legislative session, now in its second week of overtime, could set a new record for going beyond scheduled adjournment when one party controls the House, the Senate, and the Governor’s office.  

In remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) said since the Iowa legislature has met annually, there have been nine times when one party controlled both the legislative and executive branches.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio file photo

Finance managers in the Iowa House and Senate say it is costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars for the legislature to remain in session past its April 17th adjournment date.  

Those costs are expected to rise as the session may continue well into next week, even once House and Senate GOP negotiators reach agreement on taxes and budgets. 

Chief House Clerk Carmine Boal explains that lawmakers’ expense accounts expired on April 17th, the scheduled 100th day of the session, so they are no longer being paid per diem. 

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A stronger form of medical marijuana would become available in Iowa for a larger number of patients under a bill that advanced in the Iowa Senate today.  

It’s the second year in a row that the Senate has tried to pass a more expansive medical marijuana law than the one Gov. Branstad signed last year.   

peggy huppert and kim reynolds
Joyce Russell / IPR

Advocates for families struggling with mental illness are applauding Gov. Kim Reynolds' signing Monday of an executive order to create a new state board overseeing childhood mental illness.   

The Children’s Mental Health Board will make recommendations for a new statewide system for children who are not covered by the state program that serves adults with mental illness.  

Activists say the new program is long overdue.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A gun control rally and voter registration drive was held on the west steps of the Iowa Statehouse today, part of a nationwide observance of the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings.  

A youth group known as Iowa Students United organized the rally of several hundred metro area students.      

Seventeen-year old  Tyler Juffernbruch of Norwalk said Iowa Students United came together after the February mass shooting at a Florida high school. 

He said the shootings “broke a ceiling into activism.”

Joyce Russell/IPR

Rank and file lawmakers adjourned for the week and went home today, leaving behind key negotiators to work out a tax deal so the 2018 legislative session can come to a close. 

There is broad agreement among Republicans in the House, the Senate, and the governor’s office that income tax cuts are needed so Iowans can take full advantage of federal tax cuts.   Each of their plans provide additional tax relief beyond that, while the Senate plan cuts taxes most aggressively of the three.

John Pemble/IPR

Iowa’s court system could soon be filling vacant judge positions across the state that have been causing delays in court proceedings, if a proposed House GOP budget becomes law.  

To balance the budget for the fiscal year that ends in June, the courts eliminated 67 positions statewide and held open judicial vacancies for an average of one year.

Under a House GOP Judicial Branch budget that advanced this week, the court system would get a $4.3 million increase in its appropriation next year.    

Joyce Russell/IPR

There were emotional remembrances from the floor of the Iowa House and Senate Tuesday as gay and lesbian lawmakers honored Iowa civil rights activist Donna Red Wing, who died Monday at the age of 67.   

Red Wing led the advocacy organization One Iowa from 2012 to 2016, and was nationally recognized for her work on behalf of the LGBT community.      

Rep. Liz Bennett (D-Cedar Rapids) recalled her own history dealing with discrimination from a young age because of her sexual orientation.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Bare bones budgets keeping state agency funding at the levels of three years ago won preliminary approval at the statehouse today, as work began in earnest on next year’s overall state budget. 

Lawmakers from both parties expressed concern about short-staffing in public safety jobs.  

On a party-line vote, the GOP-dominated House Appropriations Committee approved what they’re calling status quo funding for the justice system, which covers highway patrol, prisons, and the state crime lab.   

John Pemble/IPR

Republicans and Democrats sparred today over GOP plans to cut income and other taxes before lawmakers wrap up their 2018 legislative session.  

Separate bills in the House and Senate would cut taxes by as much as $2 billion over five years.  

Both chambers would also increase sales taxes to help cover the cost of the income tax cuts.  

Sen. Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque) is ranking Democrat on the Senate Ways and Means Committee.   Speaking on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River, she predicted low to middle income taxpayers would barely come out ahead.

John Pemble / IPR file

Republicans who control the Iowa House unveiled a more than $1 billion tax cut bill. And, Republicans who control the Senate have their own new $2 billion tax plan. Time is ticking on the Iowa legislative session because lawmakers’ expense accounts expire on Tuesday. IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell breaks it down. 

John Pemble/IPR

State lawmakers return to the capitol today, starting another week of negotiations within the Republican party over how much to cut state income taxes.   

The GOP-controlled House and Senate last week unveiled updated and competing tax plans.   

House members call  their tax cut bill “significant but responsible,” while the Senate’s is, in  their words “bold but prudent.”

Under the House bill, the average individual income tax cut would reach nearly 9 percent.   The bill would cost $1.3 billion over five years.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

The Iowa legislature honored accomplished native daughter and record-breaking astronaut Peggy Whitson with a joint House and Senate Resolution today.   

Whitson is from Mount Ayr and grew up on a farm near Beaconsfield.  

When she returned from her most recent mission last September, Whitson had spent over 289 days in orbit, and had cumulatively spent over 665 days during her three missions aboard the International Space Station, more time living and working in space than any other American or any woman worldwide.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Gov. Reynolds’ nominee for a position on the Iowa Board of Medicine went down to defeat in a  confirmation vote in  the Iowa Senate today.  

Nevada resident Katherine Asjes is the wife of a NATO flight officer with a background in public relations who has lived all over the world, but settled in Iowa in 2005.     

The Senate voted 30 to 18 for confirmation, short of the two-thirds majority required.

Senate Democrats objected to a post on a Catholic blog in which Asjes agreed with negative views about the LGBT community.    

Joyce Russell/IPR

On a strict party-line vote, Republicans in the Iowa House today approved a proposed constitutional amendment to clarify the line of succession when an Iowa lieutenant governor assumes the governorship.     

Republicans say that will correct what some saw as an error over the appointment of acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg last year. 

When Gov. Reynolds assumed the governorship last year, according to an opinion from Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, she was not able to formally appoint Adam Gregg to the second-in-command position.    

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A leading Iowa maker of agricultural equipment today warned of the impact on Iowa’s manufacturing sector from a trade dispute between the U.S. and China.      

On March 23, the United States put a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum. In response, China placed retaliatory tariffs of 15-25 percent on 128 American products, including pork.

Additional threatened tariffs from both sides are now in play. 

John Pemble/IPR

Gov. Reynolds' $1.7 billion tax cut bill was the subject of a public hearing at the statehouse last night, where dozens of Iowans weighed in for and against.  

The bill which is under consideration in the House cuts personal income taxes by up to 23 percent as well as small business taxes.    It would cost the state treasury $300 million a year starting next year.

One supporter, Amy Boozell, is a mother of five who works with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Story County.    She says working people deserve a break on their taxes.

John Pemble/IPR

  

The Head of the Iowa Department of Human Services is defending the state’s privatized Medicaid system, after a scathing report last week by the state ombudsman.  

The report said complaints from patients and providers jumped by 157% last year, making Medicaid one of the top targets of complaints from citizens reporting difficulties with the government.

Since April of 2016, for-profit companies have managed the program for 640,000 Iowans who are poor or disabled.

kim reynolds
John Pemble/IPR

We’re headed into the last few weeks of the legislative session, and as usual for a Monday, IPR’s Clay Masters and Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell chatted about the legislature on Morning Edition.

Gov. Reynolds won’t face a primary challenge, but the possibility of a challenge hasn’t seemed to affect her work.  Russell says the governor had a limited legislative agenda this year, primarily consisting of the “Future Ready” workforce development legislation, which she has already signed. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate will return to the negotiating table at the capitol Monday, hoping to find agreement within their party on tax cuts that will clear the way for adjournment of this year’s legislative session. 

A Senate bill cuts taxes more than the governor and the Republican-controlled House are recommending.   Work on the more than $7 billion state budget can’t get underway in earnest until the tax issues are resolved.  

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver thinks a resolution on taxes and targets for the budget can be completed this week.

John Pemble/IPR

A bill that aims to correct some of the problems in Iowa’s privatized Medicaid system advanced in the Republican-controlled Iowa House this week.  

The bill comes as complaints continue from patients not getting services and providers not getting paid. 

A House committee approved HF2483 on Tuesday, one day after the state ombudsman released a scathing report on the privatized program, including services for the elderly and disabled.

flossyflotsam/flickr

College students at Iowa’s Regents universities should plan to spend a little more for supplies under a bill that advanced in the Iowa House today.  

The bill would eliminate the sales tax exemption students currently enjoy at university-owned campus bookstores. 

Private industry complains the tax break is unfair competition.  

The owner of Iowa Book, a private store near campus, wrote a letter to lawmakers urging them to change the law.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

After hours of debate, and on a mostly party-line vote, Republicans in the Iowa House Tuesday approved legislation they say will ensure that local governments in Iowa cooperate with federal immigration authorities.  

GOP lawmakers told stories of serious crimes committed in other states where they say immigrants in the country illegally are “caught and released.”      

Under the bill, no city or county in Iowa may adopt a policy that discourages enforcement of federal  immigration laws or keeps police from inquiring about the immigration status of someone in detention.   

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