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 can 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, Google Play, Spotify or Stitcher, or you can use the RSS icon at the right to copy a feed URL for your podcatcher. 

26

Five cases that the U.S. Supreme Court has put on its docket for the current term could have a significant impact on states. State legislatures are waiting for decisions on these cases, and could cause them to change state laws depending on how the court rules. And a potentially explosive sixth case is waiting in the wings.

Our guests on this episode of “Our American States” are Lisa Soronen, executive director of the State and Local Legal Center, and Susan Frederick, senior federal affairs counsel at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The cases we examine are:

  • Gill v. Whitford, a Wisconsin case in which the court may decide whether partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional.
  • Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, looks at whether Colorado's public accommodations law violates a cake artist’s First Amendment free speech and free exercise rights.
  • Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees the court will address whether unions can collect dues from nonmembers.
  • Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute looks at Ohio’s procedures to remove voters from their rolls after four years of inactivity.
  • Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association may decide how far Congress can regulate states and localities in the absence of comprehensive federal regulation.

And, as a bonus, we’ll discuss what could happen if the court accepts a South Dakota case that could overturn the 1992 Quill Corp v North Dakota, which said states could not force business to collect sales or use taxes unless it has a physical presence in a state.

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12

Each day, a half million school buses are on the road transporting students. The safety record is impressive. The design of school buses, known in the field as “compartmentalization,” has limited fatalities each year. However, experts have been looking at adding seat belts on school buses to increase safety.

Our guests are intimately involved in the issue.

Kris Poland is a senior biomechanical engineer in the National Transportation Safety Board’s and describes her agency’s investigations of crashes and the development of federal policy to maintain and improve the safety record of school buses. She explains what they’ve learned about seat belts on buses and how they continue to learn from each crash episode.

Tennessee State Representative JoAnne Favors, who last November had a tragic school bus crash in her district that resulted in six students losing their lives. The incident prompted her to push for seat belts on state school buses. While the effort stopped short of passage, she feels the legislature is close to an agreement and offers advice to colleagues on what to look for sponsoring similar legislation. 

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28

After hurricanes that have hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico in recent weeks, "Our American States" takes a look at how governments prepare, handle and react to natural disasters. We talk with two guests with intimate experience on how the federal, state and local governments work in times of these horrific events.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R) provides an update on recovery efforts in his state, and offers two pieces of advice to states on how to prepare for natural disasters. Then Virginia Tech associate professor Patrick S. Roberts, who has written a book "Disasters and the American State: How Politicians, Bureaucrats and the Public Prepare for the Unexpected," discusses changes in government approaches to natural disasters since Hurricane Katrina.

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Category: Legislatures
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14

One of the nation's respected historians, Doris Kearns Goodwin, is now researching a book on leadership. Her subjects over the years have included Presidents Lincoln, Johnson, Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft. She believes there are lessons to be learned from these great leaders that can apply today to not only public servants, but to professionals in other industries and young people.

She spoke with "Our American States," before delivering a keynote address to the National Conference of State Legislatures' Legislative Summit in Boston. We asked her to define leadership, let us know who she would like to have been able to interview, and even threw in a question about another of her favorite topics, baseball.

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Category: Leadership, Summit
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24

In this edition of "Our American States," we revisit the issue of cybsersecurity. When we first aired a podcast on the subject in February, the National Conference of State Legislatures Cybersecurity Task Force had just issued a "Cybersecurity Conversation Guide: Executive Branch, Legislative Branch and Higher Education." Since then, we have learned that more states were targeted by Russian influences during the 2016 elections.

So we decided to sit down with task force co-chair Jacqui Irwin, a memberof the California Assembly. She discusses what the task force is doing now, why we should be worried about more than elections when it comes to cybersecurity, why it's important for citizens to protect their online privacy, and why states need IT experts in their employ.

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10

Women, who make up a little more than 50 percent of the U.S. population, only hold about a quarter of the nation’s 7,383 state legislative seats. While it’s a dramatic increase from the 1970s, the percentage has been stagnant for several years.

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Category: Legislators
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26

How does this country treat juveniles who commit offenses? Each state approaches the issue differently. The way we look at juveniles who commit crimes from misdemeanors to felonies shifts based on legal rulings and research. Our guests on this edition of "Our American States" take a look at the key issues, research and legislation affecting juvenile justice.

We'll first hear from Marsha Levick, the deputy director and chief counsel for the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia. She's been involved in U.S. Supreme Court cases, and her group works on legal issues involving juveniles. She led a famous effort that removed state judges who were sentencing juveniles without representation and receiving kickbacks from for-profit juvenile facilities.

Then we'll talk with Kentucky state Senator Whitney Westerfield (R), who chairs the NCSL Juvenile Justice Principles Work Group, made up of 15 state legislative leaders in juvenile justice from across the country. The senator shares how the above quote, by Frederick Douglass, has helped shape his views on juvenile justice and led to comprehensive reform in his state. The bill has been promoted as a model by the Right on Crime national campaign.

Both give their perspective on the importance on collecting data and using it in a positive way.

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13

Americans learned a lot about the birth of our nation when Lin-Manuel Miranda launched the hit Broadway show, “Hamilton.” In the song, “Non-Stop,” part of the lyrics goes:

“Alexander joins forces with James Madison and John Jay to write a series of essays defending the new United States Constitution, entitled 'The Federalist Papers.' ”

From those papers, came a concept of government called federalism, where states share power with the federal government. As our guests today will explain, the system works—but it also creates great tension between those entities.

Robin Vos, a Republican and the speaker of the House of Representatives in Wisconsin, and Dan Blue, a Democratic Senator from North Carolina, share their viewpoints on the state of federalism today, nearly 230 years after "The Federalist Papers" were published.

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Category: Legislatures
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22

Working in the legislative arena is not always easy. There are long hours, long stretches of sitting at a desk, a need to multitask and often a lack of sleep. Stacy Householder of the National Conference of State Legislatures shares six brain rules designed to help legislators and legislative staff be more effective. Her recommendations are based on research and its relevance for those working in legislative chambers.

“Scientists have learned more about the brain in the last 20 years than they have from the previous five centuries,” she says. Her advice includes “lap the Cap,” getting sleep and focusing on the task at hand. 

Find out if you are a lark or night owl and how that might affect your work. All this and more in this edition of “Our American States.”

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08

With 5,000-6,000 legislators, legislative staff and those interested in public policy expected to descend on Boston for the 2017 Legislative Summit, our guest today recommends being prepared to being engaged.

Catherine Johns, a communications expert with experience as a Chicago talk show radio host, gives honest advice about how to start conversations, how to follow up with those business cards you'll get and even how to do a proper handshake. You'll learn how to listen in conversations, create a better approach to Elevator Speeches and how to gracefully get out of those conversations that have gone too long.

“A good part of good conversation is really being present with the person I'm engaged with,” she says. See if her advice helps you prepare for the Summit on this edition of  “Our American States.”

Catherine Johns will lead a workshop, “Making Your Case: Effective Communication,” at the 2017 NCSL Legislative Summit in Boston on Sunday, Aug. 6, 8-11 a.m.

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