Texas Government Lobby News: Texas Sunset Advisory Commission 2013 -2015
What Is Sunset?
Sunset is the regular assessment of the continuing need for a state agency to exist. While standard legislative oversight is concerned with agency compliance with legislative policies, Sunset asks a more basic question: Do the agency’s functions continue to be needed? The Sunset process works by setting a date on which an agency will be abolished unless legislation is passed to continue its functions. This creates a unique opportunity for the Legislature to look closely at each agency and make fundamental changes to an agency’s mission or operations if needed.
Who Is Sunset?
The 12-member Sunset Advisory Commission has five members of the Senate and one public member appointed by the Lieutenant Governor, and five members of the House and one public member appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The chairmanship rotates between the Senate and the House every two years and is assigned to a senator for the 2014–2015 biennium. Past members of the Sunset Commission are shown on page 89. The Sunset Commission is authorized to appoint a Director who employs sufficient staff to carry out the Commission’s responsibilities. The staff assesses an agency, giving the Commission and Legislature information needed to determine the agency’s necessity and to make improvements.
How Is an Agency Scheduled for Review Under Sunset?
About 130 state agencies are subject to the Texas Sunset Act, which became effective in September 1977. The agencies’ enabling statutes specify the dates upon which each agency is abolished, unless continued in existence by legislation. Agencies under Sunset typically undergo review once every 12 years. Certain entities, such as universities and courts, are not subject to the Sunset Act. Some constitutionally created agencies, such as the Board of Pardons and Paroles and the Board of Trustees of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, are subject to Sunset review but not abolishment. Occasionally, the Legislature will also place under Sunset review other entities that are not state agencies — such as various local transit agencies, the Port of Houston Authority, and the University Interscholastic League.
Generally, the Legislature groups and schedules agencies for review by topic to allow the examination of all major state policies related to a particular function at once, such as health and human services and financial regulation. About 20 to 30 agencies go through the Sunset process each legislative session. The Legislature may change the review schedule to enable a close look at certain agencies of special legislative interest. By using the Sunset process to examine problem areas, the Legislature further strengthens the accountability of state agencies.
Read the full commission report here.