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. 

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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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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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26

In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that online retailers did not have to collect sales or use taxes unless the company had a physical presence in a state. Soon after, the National Conference of State Legislatures and other state and local government organizations, championed efforts in Congress and in the states to fix the remote sales tax issue. 

NCSL President and South Dakota Senator Deb Peters (R), who has been active with NCSL in addressing this matter, filed legislation in her state designed to challenge the issue. On April 17, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case, South Dakota v. Wayfair, which could result in retailers collecting the sales tax owed on purchases.

We discuss the legislation and background leading up to the case with Senator Peters, and also talk with Supreme Court expert Lisa Soronen, who is executive director of the State and Local Legal Center.

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Category: Fiscal
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12

In 2020, the U.S. will conduct its next census. The result of that census will determine the amount of federal funds appropriated to states—nearly $700 billion federal aid is at stake. It also will determine the number of seats in Congress a state receives, as well as redistricting for state legislative and local seats. This episode will explain why an accurate count is critical to government, businesses, nonprofits and other organizations.

Preparations are underway and states are taking a lead role, with many already creating statewide complete count commissions to ensure accurate counts. Our guests will explain the process of collecting the data of more than 327 million people and what will happen between now and when official data are collected. They also say state legislators have a critical role to play in the process. Our three guests are:

  • Tim Olson, associate director for field operations, U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Terri Ann Lowenthal, census consultant and former staff director of the House Census Oversight Committee.
  • Patrick Potyondy, a legislative policy specialist and ACLS-Mellon public fellow in NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting program.

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Category: Elections
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22

The list of duties and responsibilities for state legislators is long. Still, a number of state senators and representatives carve out time from their busy schedule—which often includes another full-time job—to talk with students about government and the importance of participating in the process.

The National Conference of State Legislatures encourages state legislators to take part in its “America’s Legislators Back to School” program, offering tips on how to engage with students.

We get two unique perspectives on how talking with students has an impact. Kentucky Senate Pro Tem Jimmy Higdon, who represents a largely rural area, and Boston metropolitan state Representative Christine Barber, offer their perspectives on engaging students. They will reveal how students not only learn, but how young people can have an impact on state issues.

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Category: Legislators
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For a little more than two years, states have been implementing a federal law called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a bipartisan federal education law that the Wall Street Journal characterized as “the largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter-century.”

ESSA enhances state’s ability to close “opportunity gaps,” which occur when one group of students consistently receives more educational inputs than another group. In this podcast, economist Art Rolnick explains how investing in early childhood education can pay off in big ways for the states, by closing opportunity gaps before they become achievement gaps. Through research, he has quantified the economic benefits to states.

We also talk with Utah state Senator Howard Stephenson (R), who shares how working with incarcerated youth in his state changed his perspective on the value of early childhood education programs.

For more on early childhood education and closing opportunity gaps, review NCSL’s research.

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Category: Education
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22

For the nine states and the District of Columbia that have approved the sale of recreational marijuana, and the 29 states and three territories that allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, there is great concern about the federal government’s desire to seek criminal prosecution over the possession of marijuana.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it known he would like to enforce federal laws that prohibit the possession of marijuana for any purposes. This could be of special concern for the estimated 2.5 million Americans who use the drug for medicinal reasons.

Our guests, both experts from the National Conference of State Legislatures, guide us through this issue. Susan Frederick, senior federal affairs counsel at NCSL, walks us through the attorney general’s actions and explains what is at stake for states. Karmen Hansen, a program director in NCSL’s health program, breaks down the statistics on state laws, including how much revenue is being generated and what is on the horizon following the attorney general’s actions.

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Category: Public Policy
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