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

30

The success and self-sustainability of families is critical to the overall well-being of our nation’s states. State legislators seeking to bolster economic opportunities for families in their districts have many challenging factors to consider and a wide field of policy options to choose from. To navigate this complex policy area, some of the best available tools for lawmakers are the wealth of knowledge developed by their colleagues and the work and guidance of national experts.

The National Conference of State Legislatures’ annual Economic Opportunities for Families meeting, now in its 16th year, is a rare opportunity when those resources converge. Since 2003, 40 states have participated in this gathering, developing multi-faceted policy plans to build their workforce, provide asset development options for families and give additional support to workers to keep them on track. Hundreds of new enactments have been developed here, and each year builds upon the lessons learned from the year before.

At the 2018 meeting, which took place in Denver, we interviewed three people to give their perspective on the value of the meeting and to share their thoughts on these critical issues. They include:

  • Illinois State Senator and NCSL President Toi Hutchinson (D)
  • Georgia State Representative Katie Dempsey (R)
  • Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation

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16

Since the relative recent invention of texting, drivers have been tempted to check their phones. And pretty much at the same time, states have been looking at ways to temper that urge.

There are a number of challenges to effectively enforce distracted driving laws. Drivers find loopholes that give motorists a number of plausible excuses for holding or manipulating a mobile device. And no state or locality can afford a patrol to watch every driver on every road.

Still, an estimated 40,000 people die each year in traffic crashes. Our guests will provide the statistics and tell us what states are doing to drive that number down. And we’ll look at a program in Tennessee that literally has drivers and the media talking. Our guests are:

  • Liza Lemaster-Sandback, highway safety specialist, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • Lieutenant Bill Miller, public Information officer, Tennessee Highway Patrol

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Category: Transportation
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09

The U.S. Department of Health and Human services says 116 people die each day in the United States from an overdose of opioids. This includes prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids. It says more than 2.1 million people had an opioid use disorder in 2016.

This year, the National Conference of State Legislatures created an Opioid Policy Fellows Program, open to chairs of health-related legislative committees. Through face-to-face meetings, the program is focused on health policies and programs related to the opioid crisis.

We held a conversation with three attendees of a recent Opioid Policy Fellows meeting in Denver, who explain how their state is addressing the crisis and why bipartisanship is critical in approaching legislation. Our guests are:

  • Maryland House Delegate Eric Bromwell (D)
  • Vermont Representative Ann Pugh (D)
  • Alaska Senator David Wilson (R)

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Category: Health
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26

When the dust settled from the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the term that ended in June 2018, states were left with a historic victory regarding the fairness of sales tax collections and the ability to decide for themselves on the legality of sports wagering. While there were other victories, some issues remained cloudy. But perhaps the biggest news of the term was the announcement from Justice Anthony Kennedy that he is retiring.

In this episode of “Our American States,” we ask Lisa Soronen, executive director of the State and Local Legal Center, to provide her analysis of the court’s 2017-18 decisions. She also gives her perspective on how Kennedy’s retirement may affect the court’s decisions on state issues in the future.

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19

Christopher ThornbergFor most states, the fiscal year ended on June 30, 2018. We decided this would be a good time to get an overview of the national economy from an expert familiar to many state legislators and state legislative staff. Christopher Thornberg, the founding partner of the research firm Beacon Economics, is our guest on this episode.

He says a pressing concern for states is higher interest rates over the next 24 months and a lack of workers. He believes the economy will continue to grow over the next two years, but he sees stressors that make him worry how much longer the expansion can last. A “dangerously” low level of consumer savings is one of his concerns.

We get reaction to how the federal tax bill is affecting the economy and how tariff policies could affect states. He also explains why he believes Congress and the administration need to pay more attention to policies that have an impact on our economy. It’s part of his discussion he wants to share in his talk, “The Great Disconnect,” when he speaks at the NCSL Legislative Summit in Los Angeles on Aug. 1.

 

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Category: Fiscal
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12

On this issue of “Our American States,” we’ll take a look at how ride hailing services are having an effect on people with disabilities and older adults. Historically, the Americans with Disabilities Act has required taxi services to make accommodations for people with disabilities to ensure equal access to transportation services. This includes, for example, requirements that taxi companies have a certain number of wheelchair accessible vehicles, and allow service dogs to ride for free.

Our guests say the explosive growth of ride hailing services has had unintended consequences, such as a decrease in taxi services, a lack of training for contracted drivers and fewer wheelchair accessible vehicles available. In addition, apps do not have disability-friendly features. On the plus side though, it has opened up employment opportunities for older adults.

This episode features interviews with:

  • Carol Tyson, government affairs liaison, Disability Rights Education and Defense Funds
  • Jana Lynott, senior strategic policy adviser, AARP Public Policy Institute’s Livable Communities team

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Category: Transportation
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28

For more than 25 years, states have worked to close a loophole that allowed online companies to sell products tax free, while traditional brick and mortar stores were forced to collect and remit those taxes to states. The effort to put fairness in the marketplace and in state tax policy was led by the creation of a special task force formed by the National Conference of State Legislatures 26 years ago. The work paid off on June 21, 2018 when the United States Supreme Court reversed a 1992 decision that said businesses only had to collect sales taxes if they had a physical presence in the state.

In the new case, South Dakota v Wayfair, the court noted that the state had adopted the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement, which NCSL and other associations created to set a standard for the collection of taxes on online purchases. In this edition of “Our American States,” we have two experts who have worked intimately on this issue.

  • William Pound is the executive director of the National Conference of State Legislatures and worked with officers, state legislators and legislative staff 26 years ago to create the NCSL Executive Committee Task Force on State and Local Taxation. The group has worked tirelessly to bring fairness on this issue.
  • Max Behlke is the budget and tax director of the National Conference of State Legislatures State-Federal Relations Department in their Washington, D.C., office. He has staffed NCSL’s task force for several years.

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14

Taking classes in the summer was once seen as a punitive measure. Research, though, is showing that students of all ages and grades often suffer from a “summer slide,” or summer learning loss that makes re-entry to school in the fall more difficult. Our guests explain how this slide is tied into the achievement gap and affects students over time.

Matthew Boulay is the founder and CEO of the National Summer Learning Association. He discusses how students experience a “summer slide” and why it’s important to help students maintain gains from each school year.

Oregon State Representative Barbara Smith Warner (D) chaired the state’s Summer Learning Work Group, and is working to enhance summer learning programs for students in the state.

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Category: Education
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24

In this edition, we talk with the president and CEO of the world’s largest human resource association, Johnny Taylor. His organization, the Society for Human Resource Management, represents human resource professionals in 165 countries and has more than 300,000 members.

Taylor provides his expertise and discusses how state legislatures can benefit from stronger human resource offices and policies. We get his advice for human resource directors and he explains why it’s important to have those directors at the table when important organizational decisions are being made.

He leaves us with a look at the biggest trends affecting human resource management today: workforce, artificial intelligence and culture.

Taylor will be featured as a keynote speaker at NCSL’s Legislative Summit this summer.

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Category: Legislatures
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10

Working in state legislatures is a very demanding job. State legislative serve in an institution where workload changes can come often and swiftly. The shifting nature of legislation and the mixture of public opinion, rules, procedures and process make session work stressful. But for the estimated 30,000-plus legislative staff that work in legislatures during session, most will tell you the work is rewarding.

This week, the National Conference of State Legislatures is celebrating Legislative Staff Week and we’re devoting this episode of “Our American States” to the topic of mindfulness—keeping oneself in the present and maintaining a calm demeanor even under stressful conditions. Our guests are:

  • Tammy Wright, who is the clerk of the New Hampshire Senate. She talks about how she uses mindfulness in her role as she works with leadership and her staff during the legislative session.
  • Megan Jones Bell, the chief science officer of Headspace, a company that merges technology and meditation. She will be a featured speaker at NCSL’s annual meeting in Los Angeles this summer.

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