Our American States | An NCSL Podcast

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The “Our American States” podcast—produced by the National Conference of State Legislatures—is where you hear compelling conversations that tell the story of America’s state legislatures, the people in them, the politics that compel them, and the important work of democracy.

You can listen to the podcast on this page, you can subscribe through iTunes or Google Play, or you can use the RSS icon at the right to copy a feed URL for your podcatcher. 

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Overview

Podcast logoNCSL’s Our American States podcast presents a special six-part series, “Building Democracy: The Story of Legislatures.” This new mini-series covers the history, characters and stories of state legislatures in America, from the beginnings in Jamestown, to the present day and into the future.

Each episode in the series will contain interviews with experts from inside and outside the legislative world to provide a comprehensive view of historical events and their legacy in today’s legislatures. Extras will include extended guest interview clips, articles in NCSL’s State Legislatures magazine, blogs and resources for those who want to dive deeper into topics covered in the podcast.

Episode 1

"First Assembly – Virginia 1619" examines life on the Jamestown colony, which has been called the first American startup, and introduces Sir Edwyn Sandys (pronounced "Sands"), "one of hte most influential characters in the history of the American colonies that no one ever heard of." A businessman charged with establishing a successful colony in America, Sandys' aspiration was to establish a society that was fairer than society in England. He helped write The Great Charter, which called for the election of representatives or “burgesses” to serve alongside appointed officials in a “General Assembly”, a direct DNA ancestor of today's legislatures.

Life in the colony was challenging and messy, chock full of scandals, corruption and infighting. Human beings became an early commodity through slave trade from Africa.

Join NCSL staffers and "Building Democracy" hosts John Mahoney and Megan McClure along with their expert guests, former Virginia clerk of the House, G. Paul Nardo; curator of American Slavery at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Mary Elliott; and Jim Horn, president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, as they explore this history—the good and the bad—and how the first meeting of these colonial representatives was the starting point in the story of America’s state legislatures.

Episodes will be released every other month through the end of 2020. 

"Building Democracy" Podcast Homepage

 

Hosts

  • Megan McClure
  • John Mahoney
  • Nicholas Birdsong

Guests

  • G. Paul Nardo, former clerk of the house and keeper of the roles of the Commonwealth of Virginia
  • Jim Horn, president, Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation
  • Mary Elliott, curator of American Slavery, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

General Thanks

  • To the NCSL Legislative Staff Coordinating Committee for the idea which led to the creation of Building Democracy and who’s support keeps it going.
  • To Podfly Productions for production and editing
  • To the House of Pod for recording and studio space

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Category: Legislatures
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To kick off 2020, we talked with Tim Storey, who took over as executive director of the National Conference of State Legislatures in mid-2019. Storey discusses the strength of state budgets and his view that there are not one or two big issues dominating legislative agendas this year, a change from previous years. And he discusses the upcoming redistricting of state legislative and congressional districts that make this election the "big kahuna" of the decade.

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For the first time, around 2040, there will be more older adults than children. By 2060, the U.S. Census Bureau says, nearly 1 in 4 Americans will be 65 years and older. And in that same year, the number of people 85 years and older will triple and the country will add a half million centenarians. We decided to explore what “Living to 100” means for state policymakers across the country.

Later in the program, we’ll talk with Karen Brown, who is an original and current member—and a former chair—of the Colorado Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging. The group was formed by the Colorado General Assembly since the state has one of the fastest growing senior populations.

Our guests are:

  • James Firman, president and CEO of the National Council on Aging.
  • Karen Brown, a member and former chair of Colorado’s Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging and CEO of iAging.

Additional Resources

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services latest “Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System” says more than 430,000 people were in foster care in the last fiscal year. About a quarter of those in the system were teenagers. There is growing awareness that older teens in the foster care system need trained foster parents to help them transition to adulthood. Consequently, 28 states and the District of Columbia have extended foster care beyond the age of 18.

On this episode of “Our American States,” we talk with two state legislators who have first-hand knowledge of foster care and are actively involved in shedding light on this topic.

  • Alaska Representative Ivy Spohnholz (D), who is a foster and adoptive parent
  • Indiana Senator Erin Houchin (R), who is a former case worker

Additional Resources

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Category: Human Services
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Researchers and scientists continue to make advancements in determining how young people learn and how their brains develop. State legislatures devote significant time to education policy and approve considerable state resources to improve the education systems in their states.

Our guest is Dr. Linda Darling Hammond, who is the president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute. She explains what we are learning about brain development and how it affects how young people are taught today. She says the ideas from the research can work in any school, regardless of its socio-economic status. And, she says many of the principles can be applied in school systems without additional state funds.

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Category: Education
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Of the 18 million military veterans living in America today, about one-fourth of them with a service-connected disability. For post 9/11 veterans, that percentage increases to 41 percent. With Veterans Day 2019 approaching, our attention turned to what state services are available to these brave men and women who served our country. The National Conference of State Legislatures recently released a report, “A Path to Employment for Veterans with Disabilities.” It examines an extensive array of employment services and benefits designed to improve the lives of military veterans with disabilities.

State legislatures are taking actions to assist veterans with disabilities, who often face obstacles when they compete and apply for jobs. Our guests outline several state actions, including employment preferences, career development, job placement, apprentice programs, on-the-job training, occupational licensing and tax incentives for employers.

Our guests today are Jim Reed and Jennifer Schultz, the authors of this report. They both staff the Military and Veterans Affairs Task Force at NCSL.

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Much of the nation’s network of electricity generation, transmission and distribution resources is aging and major upgrades are needed to for new technologies, changing market dynamics and shifting consumer preferences. This analysis comes from a new NCSL report, “Modernizing the Electric Grid: State Role and Policy Options.”

States are finding a challenge in keeping up with the way technology impacts our power grids, particularly those that still rely on larger power plants. “The challenge facing state policymakers is how to craft policies that promote cost-effective investment in the electric system while allowing innovative technologies and new energy management approaches to flourish and compete in a rapidly shifting environment,” says the report.

Our guest is Glen Andersen, who is the energy program director at the National Conference of State Legislatures, and one of the authors of the report. He talks about how new technologies affect public policy, how consumers are creating their own power, how smarter household appliances, electrical gadgets and electric vehicles affect the grid.

Additional Resources

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The U.S. Supreme Court opened its current term on the first Monday of October. The court is considering several cases of direct interest to state legislatures. For starters, the court will decide whether the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is judicially reviewable and lawful.

Other potentially charged cases are reviews of state laws on insanity defense, sexual orientation, gun laws, abortion, and the separation of church and state. It could even decide the legal copyright of state law annotations. 

Our guest is Lisa Soronen, the executive director of the State and Local Legal Center, who watches and analyzes U.S. Supreme Court decisions. She explains these cases and more, and offers insight on how justices are likely to view them.

Additional Resources

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Once every 10 years, America’s political landscape changes. While most people are aware the U.S. census takes place in years that end in zero, a smaller percentage know the data collected helps determine how the nation’s political power is divided. In most states, legislatures are charged with redrawing congressional and state legislative maps following the release of the census data. This means political control of the legislature and the governor’s office will be critical when maps are redrawn in 2021. We invited two guests to explain this process and what legislatures are doing in preparation for the historic event.

  • Wendy Underhill is the director of the Elections and Redistricting Program at the National Conference of State Legislatures. NCSL is producing a series of meetings on redistricting, with the next one taking place Oct. 24-27 in Columbus, Ohio. Future redistricting meetings will be held in Las Vegas, Portland, Ore. and Washington, D.C.
  • For the staff perspective, we talk with Michelle L. Davis, a senior policy analyst on redistricting and election law at the Maryland Department of Legislative Services. She is the editor of the website Redistrictingonline and its Facebook page.

Additional Resources

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census, redistricting, elections
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patricia julianelleA 2017 study by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago discovered that around 4.2 million people between the ages of 12 and 24 experience homelessness at least once during the year. Of those, 700,000 are 17 or younger. And, the study found, youth homelessness occurs at the same rate in rural and urban areas.

In this episode, we learn why these young people experience homelessness, how public policy defines youth homelessness, why it’s difficult for these youth to access needed services and what state and federal initiatives are available to address this issue.

Our guest is Patricia Julianelle, director of program advancement and legal affairs at SchoolHouse Connection, a national nonprofit organization working to overcome homelessness through education. “We are forcing our teenagers into the hands of dangerous people when we don’t provide a legal structure for reputable service providers to be able to take care of them and keep them safe,” she says.

Additional Resources

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youth homelessness, homeless
Category: Human Services
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