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. 

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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08

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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08

With the completion of Super Bowl 52 this past weekend, we decided to take a look at states and sports, in particular the laws that regulate sports gaming and daily fantasy sports. An estimated $150 billion or more is wagered illegally on sporting events each year.

Currently, sports gambling is allowed only in Nevada and a few other exceptions. A case before the U.S. Supreme Court, which is looking at The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, could allow more states to allow these types of wagers. And it could open the doors for greater acceptance of daily sports fantasy contests.

Providing background, insight and perspective on these issues are Ethan Wilson, policy director of NCSL’s Commerce and Financial Services Standing Committee,  and Jake Lestock, an NCSL policy specialist in the State-Federal Relations Division. 

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Category: Public Policy
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25

Sexual harassment, spurred primarily the #metoo movement, has been front to the forefront of every sector—including government. In this episode, we talk with three experts to get a sense of what types of changes are happening in state legislatures and to find out what types of best practices they should consider.

First we talk with Jonathan Griffin, a program principal at the National Conference of State Legislatures, who tracks state legislative policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment. He provides an overview of some of the major changes happening in state legislatures.

Jenny Yang, a recent commissioner on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, provides her perspective on sexual harassment. She discusses how it is tied to discrimination, proper procedures and why institutions should consider changes in culture and behaviors.

Closing out the program is Jonathan Segal a recognized national expert on sexual harassment issues. He shares his thoughts on accountability, the role of leadership and how to restore trust in sexual harassment systems. And, he points out that we all have a responsibility to take a stand when we observe or overhear inappropriate behavior. 

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Category: Legislatures
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10

William Pound, executive director of the National Conference of State Legislatures, offers his insight on major issues state legislatures will be addressing in their 2018 sessions. Based on a January article in State Legislatures magazine, “Top 10 in 2018,” we get his insights on:

  • States reaction to the federal tax cut bill
  • State revenue health
  • Opioids
  • Recreational and medical marijuana
  • Immigration
  • Reduction of federal regulations
  • Cybersecurity
  • Health
  • Education
  • Driverless vehicles
  • Energy
  • Infrastructure
  • Sexual harassment
  • Election administration

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21

Following each school day, more than 10 million students take part in afterschool programs in this country, taking advantage of a system that provides additional educational opportunities, social engagement, exposure to new skills. For parents, those programs provide comfort, knowing their child is safe and in a structured environment.

The Afterschool Alliance says data demonstrates significant value for students that take part in these opportunities, but acknowledge that the quality and accessibility of afterschool programs varies across the country. They estimate that more than 11 million other children take care of themselves each day after school.

In this episode of “Our American States,” we talk with Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance to find out what is happening nationally, and Texas State Representative Trent Ashby, to get a perspective on how these programs work on the state level.

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Category: Education
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07

About 31,000 people work for state legislatures, serving in a variety of jobs. The National Conference of State Legislatures is celebrating Legislative Staff Week. So we decided to take this opportunity on  “Our American States” to interview three legislative staffers and find out more about what it's like to work for a legislature in today's political environment. They tell us about their jobs, how they got there and why it's the best job they've ever had. 

None of them entered the workforce considering a public service career in state legislatures. One person moved from the public information office to the budget office. Another volunteered for a campaign and is now directing an important legislative department. And our other guest had an exciting career as a television news anchor, but has now found a position that she enjoys more. All of them appreciate the fact that every day presents new challenges. And, they all agree that young people should consider public service jobs in the legislature. 

Our guests on this episode are:

  • Chuck Truesdell, legislative fiscal analyst, Budget Research Office, Legislative Research Commission, Kentucky
  • Martah Wigton, director, House Budget and Research Staff, Georgia
  • Lauren Hieger, communications director, Senate Majority Caucus, Missouri

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23

"Our American States" took its first road trip to Fort Collins, Colo., to watch a legislative town hall in session. Despite being the Saturday before Thanksgiving, temperatures in the low 40s and a Colorado State University football game kickoff game less than three hours away, about 70 people crammed into a library conference room to learn and ask questions about transportation issues. 

Town halls are held by state legislators across the country on a regular basis, and this meeting is just one example. The citizens of Fort Collins have a strong history of attending community forums. We provide a taste of this forum, and talk with an expert on legislative community engagement to find out what's happening around the country.

In this episode, we talk with Colorado state Representative Joann Ginal (D) and Angela Andrews, program director of the Legislative Staff Services Program at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In addition to the Fort Collins example, we find out about outreach in other states such as Massachusetts, West Virginia and Hawaii. We'll discuss trends in engagement outreach such as tele-town halls, logistics, safety, reaching Millennials, and how to have better and deeper conversations with citizens. And, both our guests bring up the value of circles.

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Category: Legislators
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09

America owes a great debt to the men and women who have served in this nation's military. The National Conference of State Legislatures several years ago created the Task Force On Military & Veterans Affairs to examine issues affecting military-community relations and the health and well-being of service members, veterans and their families.

As we approach Veterans Day, we asked the new co-chairs of the task force—Representative Tina L. Orwall (D) of Washington and Representative Dan Saddler (R) of Alaska—to talk about the future work of the task force. We discover how several major policy issues affect the well-being of former soldiers, and get a glimpse of why the two legislators are deeply invested in veterans issues.

Issues they say the task force will be looking at include jobs, energy, health care, transition, environment, courts, addiction recovery, economic development, mental health and suicide prevention. 

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