Our American States


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Episode Date
States and COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution | OAS Episode 119

Every state in the country is involved in distributing and administering the two COVID-19 vaccines now approved for use by the US. Food and Drug Administration. Each state is working with a plan that it created in consultation with the federal government.

On this podcast we discuss how those plans were created, how they’ve had to change as the pandemic has progressed and what lies ahead.

Our guests are Hemi Tewarson, an expert in state plans to distribute the COVID-19 vaccines. She is a visiting senior policy fellow at the Margolis Center for Health policy at Duke University. As a health policy expert, she has studied the state vaccine plans and discusses how those are working, changes in federal guidance and when everyone will have access to the vaccine.

Our other guest is Tahra Johnson, a policy expert at NCSL. Tahra discusses state legislative action related to vaccine plans and how legislators can get involved in the planning process.

Hemi TewarsonTahra Johnson





Jan 18, 2021
The Fiscal Challenge of Emerging Gene Therapies | OAS Episode 118

A new category of gene therapies is offering life-changing treatments to people with some forms of cancer and other rare disorders. These revolutionary treatments, however, come with a large price tag, sometimes exceeding millions of dollars for a single patient. Often, these costs fall on state Medicaid systems.

On this podcast we discuss how states are dealing with this challenge. One of our guests is Anne Winter, a Medicaid strategist with the national research and consulting firm Health Management Associates. Winter, who has particular expertise in pharmacy benefit management, discusses some of the strategies state are employing.

Our other guest is Colleen Becker, a policy expert at NCSL, who lays out the scope of the challenge facing states.

Colleen Becker, NCSLAnne Winter, Health Management Associates




Additional Resources

Jan 11, 2021
State of State Legislatures 2021 | OAS Episode 117

Tim Storey, NCSLAfter a year like no other, legislators face some unprecedented challenges when they return to work in the 2021 sessions. COVID-19 and its effects on every aspect of society—the economy, the health care, education, criminal justice and more—will be front and center for every legislature in the nation.

Tim Storey, executive director of NCSL, is the guest on the podcast and offers his perspective on what it all means. We discussed how legislatures will meet, what their priority lists look like, how budgets are shaping up and what a new administration in Washington, D.C., means for states.

Additional Resources

Jan 04, 2021
Time to Redistrict | OAS Episode 116

Possibly the most underreported story during the November 2020 election was the effect it would have on redistricting, the once-a-decade effort to draw congressional and state legislative districts.

On the podcast, Ben Williams, an NCSL policy expert on redistricting, explains how the election sets up  legislatures to start the redistricting process, and discusses when the U.S. Census Bureau will supply states with the data they need to do both reapportionment and redistricting.  He also fills us in on upcoming three-day redistricting seminar offered by NCSL that will take legislators and legislative staff through the various challenges involved in the process.


Dec 17, 2020
Some Sage Advice for New Legislators | OAS Episode 115

As the 2021 legislative sessions begin, about 15% of the lawmakers will be first timers. As with any new job, a little advice from more seasoned colleagues can be helpful.

On this podcast, I’m joined by Alabama Representative Debbie Wood and former Maine Representative Matt Moonen. They bring different perspectives. Wood, a Republican, was elected in 2018, and is completing her first term. Moonen, a Democrat, was first elected in 2012 and retired this year because of term limits. He served as House majority leader.

They talked about what surprised them the most when they first arrived in the legislature; how they handle relationships with colleagues, lobbyists and constituents; and their best piece of advice for new legislators.

Alabama Rep. Debbie WoodFormer Maine Rep. Matt Moonen





Dec 14, 2020
CDC and States Working to Reduce Maternal Mortality | OAS Episode 114

An estimated 700 women will die  from pregnancy-related complications in the U.S. this year, and most of those deaths are preventable. In addition, Black and Indigenous women are two to three times more likely to die of pregnancy related issues than White women.

On this podcast, the focus is on maternal mortality. I talk with Dr. Wanda Barfield, the director of the Division of Reproductive Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She  discusses efforts by the CDC to reduce the number of deaths, including sharing strategies with state legislators as they try to craft solutions that work best in their states.

My second guest is Khanh Nguyen, a policy expert at NCSL who tracks legislation related to maternal mortality. She shares examples of specific legislation and approaches employed by states, including a focus on helping Black and Indigenous women.

Dr. Wanda Barfield, CDCKhanh Nguyen, NCSL





Additional Resources

Dec 07, 2020
Building Democracy: The Story of Legislatures | Episode 4


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 4

In this installment of NCSL’s six-episode podcast series, “Building Democracy: The Story of Legislatures,” we travel west to see how women fought and won their right to vote, as well as how they shaped state legislatures and life on the frontier well before the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

The story of the 19th Amendment and its dramatic ninth-hour ratification on the floor of the Tennessee House is well known and often told. Yet, momentous events in the history of women in the American West are overlooked. While their sisters fought in the salons, houses of worship and halls of government in the urban “civilized” East, women strode ahead helping to form governments in the rough and yet malleable West. Women in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado (to name only a few) fought against stereotypes and social expectations to win the recognition of their rights as American citizens. Each state’s suffrage movement had unique motivations and avenues to success. One common thread to their strategies? State legislatures.


  • Senator Affie Ellis, Wyoming│ Bio
  • Representative Meg Froelich, Colorado │ Bio
  • Rebekah Clark, historical research associate, Better Days 2020Bio
Nov 19, 2020
2020 Election: Big State Legislative Takeaways | OAS Episode 113

The presidential election, understandably, has drawn much of the attention of the media and the public following Election Day. But there also were more than 6,000 state legislators on the ballot and more than 120 statewide ballot measures. Some would argue those elections will have more effect on the life of the average American than those at the top of the ticket.

One of those people is Tim Storey, executive director of NCSL and a close observer of state legislative contests for decades. Even after the election, policymakers in Washington, D.C., are likely to remain gridlocked and the real action will be in state legislatures, Storey says. He breaks down the results of the election and how it will affect redistricting, action on the pandemic and the economy, and more.

Our second guest in Amanda Zoch, an NCSL expert on statewide ballot measures, who takes us through what passed, what it says about the policy concerns of Americans and a few of the more unusual measures that voters said yes to on Election Day.

Tim Storey, NCSLAmanda Zoch, NCSL






Nov 15, 2020
Clean Slate Streamlines Process to Clear Criminal Records | OAS Episode 112

Clean slate is a policy model that uses technology to automatically clear criminal records, usually for nonviolent misdemeanors, if a person stays crime free for a certain period of time. The first such law in the nation passed in Pennsylvania in 2018. It was cosponsored by Representatives Jordan Harris (D) and Sheryl Delozier (R).

On this podcast, we talk with Harris about what prompted him to pursue the legislation and how it has worked so far in his state. Our other guest on the program is Anne Teigen, a policy expert at NCSL who tracks clean slate and other criminal justice reform legislation. She offers perspective on efforts in other states and what the future holds for this approach to criminal justice reform.

Representative Jordan Harris (D-Penn.)Anne Teigen, NCSL






Nov 09, 2020
COVID-19 and the Challenges for Higher Education | OAS Episode 111

COVID-19 swept through some colleges and universities this fall as schools reopened with a variety of approaches. Beyond the headlines, however, higher education and post-secondary training have been profoundly affected by the pandemic in other ways.

Our two guests on this podcast fill us in on the challenges ahead and the role legislators will play in dealing with state colleges and universities.

Our first guest is Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, a private foundation that is a major player in supporting efforts to expand higher education and post-secondary learning. He discusses how the pandemic has affected the world of higher education, how it has laid bare the need for more post-secondary training and how legislators can play a role.

Our second guest is Scott Jaschik, editor of the news website Inside Higher Ed. Jaschik gives us an up-to-date assessment of reopening efforts at colleges and universities around the country and discusses the fiscal landscape state legislators will face in the wake of the pandemic.

Jamie Merisotis, Lumina FoundationScott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed






Nov 02, 2020
Election 2020: State Legislative Races and Statewide Ballot Measures | OAS Episode 110

While there is intense focus on the presidential contest and the fate of the U.S. Senate as Election Day approaches, critical contests are also underway for the control of state legislative chambers.

We’re pleased to have Tim Storey, the executive director of NCSL, as one of the guests on this podcast.  Storey has been observing these elections for decades and  shares his thoughts on the prospects for a blue wave, how many legislative chambers are likely to change control and if we’re likely to see a change in overall state control.

Also joining us is Mandy Zoch, an NCSL expert on statewide ballot measures. Zoch explains why there are fewer citizen initiatives on ballots around the nation this year and some of the more interesting measures voters will decide.

Tim Storey, NCSLAmanda Zoch, NCSL






Oct 19, 2020
Supreme Court Update | OAS Episode 109

Lisa SoronenOn this podcast we get an update on the U.S. Supreme Court from Lisa Soronen, the executive director of the State and Local Legal Center in Washington, D.C. The court started its new term on Oct. 5. 

We discussed the legacy for state legislatures of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace her and the position of Chief Justice John Roberts on the shifting court.

Soronen also went over significant cases affecting the states from last term, cases to watch out for this term and, of course, the upcoming arguments over the Affordable Care Act.


Oct 12, 2020
State, Federal Policies Aim to Ease Transition Out of Foster Care | OAS Episode 108

Today’s podcast is focused on foster care and specifically on the challenges faced by young people as they transition out of the foster care system.

Our guests are Levi Smith Jr., a 23-year-old senior at Georgia State University studying social work.  Levi spent 10 years in foster care and discusses the challenges faced by older youth as they transition out of that system. Our second guest is Georgia Rep. Katie Dempsey (R), who has been involved with various pieces of legislation affecting youth in foster care during her 13 years in the legislature.

In the second segment of the show, I talk with Lynn Johnson, who is the assistant secretary overseeing the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Johnson  discusses the federal government’s role in aiding states as they work with young people transitioning out of foster care.

Levi Smith JrGeorgia Representative Katie DempseyHHS Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson






Oct 05, 2020
Data Privacy, State Legislation and the Pandemic | OAS Episode 107

Ted ClaypooleConsumer concern about data privacy has been mounting for the last few years in light of numerous data breaches. Many people also are aware of recent major governmental actions to protect privacy. One of the most far-reaching was Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, passed in May 2018. The California Consumer Privacy Act, passed in 2018, went into effect this year and was by far the most comprehensive law enacted in any state. 

This podcast focuses on data privacy and features a discussion with Ted Claypoole, an attorney with Womble Bond Dickinson in Atlanta and one of the nation’s top legal experts on data privacy. Claypoole has more than 30 years of experience representing clients in in the public and private sector on issues related to software, data management and security. He is also one of the contributors to the HeyDataData technology blog.

I talked with Claypoole about the ramifications of those laws, the prospect for more comprehensive data privacy laws in the states, the likelihood that Congress will look at a comprehensive data privacy law, and privacy issues related to artificial intelligence.


Sep 21, 2020
Keeping Kids Up to Date on Vaccines | OAS Episode 106

Today’s podcast focuses on childhood vaccinations and a troubling drop in the rate of routine immunizations for children in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our first guest is Dr. Melinda Wharton, the director of the Immunization Services Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Wharton, one of the nation’s preeminent experts on vaccine policy, discusses the reasons behind the drop, the steps the CDC is taking to help states bolster the immunization rate, the importance of keeping children on a vaccine schedule and what state lawmakers can do to help. She also reminds us that adults need vaccines as well as we enter flu season.

My other guest is Erik Skinner, an NCSL policy associate who tracks legislation related to vaccines. He offers a perspective on how state legislatures acted on vaccine policy.

Dr. Melinda Wharton, CDCErik Skinner, NCSL






Sep 14, 2020
Building Democracy: The Story of Legislatures | Episode 3


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 3

In this installment, we explore how the states and their legislatures expanded west, split apart, and came together again.

The era of American history between 1803-1877 was one of massive territorial growth, conflict, and social and economic change. The U.S. evolved from a small grouping of former colonies and newly formed states on the East Coast to exponentially expanding territories across the South, Midwest and the wilderness of the West. Legislatures were the main venue for shaping these territories into states of diverse populations and environments. After the Civil War, state legislatures became the main setting for enforcing reconstruction policies and resistance to them. The struggle to integrate a huge population of formerly enslaved people into the citizenry led to incredible victories for the expansion of civil rights, only to see them shrink again, continuing the push and pull we continue to experience as a nation today.


  • Bob Davidson, former director, Mississippi Senate Legislative Services Office
  • Mark Hirsch, historian, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian │BioBlog
  • Burdett Loomis, professor emeritus, University of Kansas │Bio
  • Kercheik Sims-Alvarado, assistant professor of Africana Studies, Morehouse College │BioBook

Special Guest Voice

  • Representative Billy Mitchell, Georgia │Bio

Additional Resources

Sep 08, 2020
COVID-19: A New Approach to Back to School | OAS Episode 105

Today’s podcast looks at how K-12 schools can reopen safely amid an ongoing pandemic and what that might look like for the foreseeable future.

Our first guest is Dr. Carissa Moffat Miller, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CSCCSO).  Dr. Miller’s organization works with state education leaders around the nation and offers a national perspective on how schools are reopening.

Our second guest is Dr. Kristi Wilson, president of the American Association of School Administrators, which is the organization of school superintendents around the nation. She is also the superintendent of the Buckeye Elementary School District just west of Phoenix, and offers some perspective from the district superintendent level.

Carissa Moffat MillerKristi Wilson






Sep 07, 2020
Traffic Safety: Legislative Trends and the Effects of the Pandemic | OAS Episode 104

The focus of today’s podcast is transportation safety and the type of legislation states have enacted to address concerns in that area.

Our guests are two NCSL staffers, Doug Shinkle, who directs the Transportation Program, and Samantha Bloch, an NCSL transportation and traffic safety policy expert.

We discussed a range of topics—school bus safety, hand-held devices, alcohol and drug impaired driving. I also asked them to share their thoughts on how the COVID-19 pandemic might change some aspects of transportation and how states may respond.

Douglas ShinkleSamantha Bloch






Aug 17, 2020
COVID-19: Contact Tracing, the CDC and the States | OAS Episode 103

Dr. Kyle BernsteinToday’s podcast focuses on contact tracing, a longtime tool used by public health officials. During this pandemic, contact tracers identify people infected with the coronavirus and then contact others they’ve interacted with recently. Contact tracers then help people get testing and offer support for self-isolating.

While every state receives some funding from the federal government to support contact tracing, states have the flexibility to manage their contact tracing plans differently. At least 17 states and the District of Columbia have introduced legislation related to contact tracing, with at least and 11 states and D.C. having enacted these measures so far.

Our guest is Dr. Kyle Bernstein, chief of the Epidemiology and Statistics Branch in the Division of STD Prevention at the CDC and an expert in contact tracing.

This project is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $120,000 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, CDC/HHS, or the U.S. government.

Aug 10, 2020
COVID-19: Connecting Behavioral and Public Health | OAS Episode 102

This podcast focuses on how states can ensure that their public health systems are connecting people with physical and behavioral health services in an integrated system, an issue made even more urgent by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our guests include:

  • Karmen Hanson, a health policy expert from NCSL.
  • New Jersey Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D), a longtime legislator, physician and a county director of health.
  • Dr. Anne Zink, chief medical officer for the state of Alaska.

Karmen HansonNew Jersey Assemblyman Herb ConawayDr. Anne Zink


This project is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $250,000 with 100% funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.

Aug 03, 2020
The ADA at 30: A Conversation With Former Senator Tom Harkin | OAS Episode 101

Former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin (D)Today’s podcast focuses on the Americans With Disabilities Act, which celebrates its 30th anniversary on July 26.

We’re fortunate to have former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin (D) as our guest. Senator Harkin, who spent 30 years in the U.S. Senate, was the author and chief sponsor of the ADA.

Senator Harkin shares the history of the ADA and how he came to play such a pivotal role. We also talked about his brother Frank, who helped inspire his work on the ADA; the political effort it took to pass the legislation; and the still unfinished business of ensuring that people with disabilities have the chance for a full life in American society.

Jul 16, 2020
Podcast Hits the Century Mark | OAS Episode 100

Today’s podcast is the 100th episode of “Our American States,” a milestone we marked by  bringing back the original host of the podcast, Gene Rose, and recalling some of our favorite moments from the last 3 ½ years. Those included interviews with political consultant Frank Luntz, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Matthew Desmond, who wrote “Evictions,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. 

We review some of the major policy issues that the podcast has covered, including how states have reacted to the COVID-19 crisis. We also share some clips from memorable interviews with a number of legislators and legislative staffers, as well as former NCSL Executive Director William Pound and current Executive Director Tim Storey.


Jul 13, 2020
COVID-19: Searching for a Vaccine | OAS Episode 99

Clement Lewinn Sanofi PasteurThis podcast is one in a series NCSL is producing about states and the coronavirus pandemic. You can find links to podcasts, webinars and other resources at www.ncsl.org/coronavirus

Today’s topic could hardly be of greater interest: the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine.

And at the forefront of that effort are the world’s pharmaceutical companies, which are pursuing multiple initiatives to find a vaccine.

To discuss that effort is today’s guest,  Clement Lewin, associate vice president for Vaccines R&D Strategy at the pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pasteur. Lewin, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of London in medical microbiology and has extensive experience in the field of vaccine development, discusses the overall efforts to create a vaccine for COVID-19, and also explain the role state legislators and other policymakers can play in the vaccine process.

This podcast was sponsored by Sanofi Pasteur, a member of the NCSL Foundation for State Legislatures.


Jul 06, 2020
COVID-19: Jeb Bush on Leadership, Federalism and the Challenges for States | OAS Episode 98

Jeb BushThis podcast is another in a series NCSL is producing about states and the coronavirus pandemic. You can find links to podcasts, webinars and other resources at www.ncsl.org/coronavirus.

Today we’re talking with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Bush recently wrote an op-ed article for the Wall Street Journal about leadership, federalism and the challenges facing states after COVID-19. We asked the governor to expand on those ideas and the tough task state lawmakers have ahead of them. We also asked the governor, whose signature policy area has been education ever since he was governor, for his thoughts on what schools will look like post pandemic.

Jun 22, 2020
COVID-19: States, the CDC and Suicide Prevention | Episode 97

Charlie Severance-MedarisThis podcast is another in a series NCSL is producing to focus on how states are responding to the coronavirus pandemic. You can find links to podcasts, webinars and other resources at www.ncsl.org/coronavirus.

Our topic for this podcast is a sobering one: suicide. The rate of suicide in the U.S. is one of the highest among wealthy nations. Nearly 50,000 people took their own lives in the U.S. in 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased concern among experts that the nation may face an increase in suicides as people struggle during the crisis.

Our first guest today is Charlie Severance-Medaris, a policy expert on the topic at NCSL. Charlie provides an overview on suicide in the U.S. Our second guest is Dr. Alex Crosby, chief medical officer in the Division of Injury Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He has expertise and long experience in dealing with the public health aspects of suicide and suicide prevention.


Jun 15, 2020