The Sunset process is a key legislative oversight tool that has significantly streamlined and improved Texas government since it was created by the Texas Legislature in 1977. Sunset promotes a culture of continuous improvement in state government by providing an objective, nonpartisan public forum for evaluating the need for state agencies and their effectiveness, efficiency, and responsiveness to the public.
Changes made through the Sunset process demonstrate its positive impact, with a proven track record of reducing state agencies and programs, saving the state money, and updating and improving state laws. Key Sunset outcomes, highlighted in the textbox Sunset’s Impact Since 1977, illustrate Sunset’s success.
The Sunset process has led to major policy changes in almost every area of state government. Sunset recommendations also have eliminated duplication among agencies and programs, increased public participation and government accountability, and improved the quality and efficiency of government services. A timeline of key events describes how the Sunset Commission and the review process have evolved over time.
|Streamlining Texas Government||Saving Taxpayer Money||Providing Effective Oversight|
2021 Legislative Session Highlights
The Sunset Commission reviewed 19 state entities for the 87th regular legislative session in 2021, and made 115 statutory recommendations to the Legislature based on staff reports and public hearings. The Legislature adopted 78 percent of these recommendations and added other changes to further improve state government. The Sunset Commission also adopted 114 management directives to address operational concerns identified during the staff reviews. Together, these changes significantly improved state government by:
- Eliminating 31 license types across 18 regulatory programs, reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens for almost 140,000 licensees across Texas. Sunset further streamlined and removed other subjective, anticompetitive, or unnecessary regulatory requirements, eliminating barriers to working in Texas that have little or no impact on public safety.
- Making regulatory complaint processes easier for the public to use and more objective, and ensuring state agencies’ inspections and enforcement actions are transparent, consistent, and focused on regulated activities that pose the greatest risk to the public.
- Clarifying stakeholder engagement standards and expectations to improve the content and quality of information provided to the public, and expanding opportunities for public participation and input in agencies’ policies, planning processes, and operations.
- Improving agency management and operations by strengthening fiscal policies, reporting requirements, audits, tracking and use of data, fair contracting processes, and risk-based decision making and resource allocation.
Specific examples of the most impactful changes are highlighted below.
Less Burdensome Regulation
The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation’s resources and capabilities had been stretched thin by decades of taking on new or troubled programs, jeopardizing the quality of service to licensees and the general public. Sunset eliminated 29 types of licenses that provided little or no benefit to the public and were held by 160,000 businesses and individuals, such as polygraph examiners and combative sports event coordinators. Sunset also streamlined the regulation of about 345,000 barbers, cosmetologists, and their businesses to reduce both the department’s workload and regulatory burdens on the licensees.
The Sunset process removed unnecessary regulatory obstacles to doing business in Texas at 10 state agencies, such as notarization of application forms, subjective qualifications to get a license or permit, onerous educational requirements, inconsistencies in licensing and examination processes, and arbitrary rules on how criminal convictions affect eligibility for certification.
More Accountable, Efficient State Government
The Texas Animal Health Commission’s animal health testing laboratory had become outdated, inefficient, and unjustifiably expensive to operate. Sunset directed the agency to close the lab and outsource regulatory animal health tests to Texas A&M University’s nationally accredited veterinary lab, to the extent testing is available, efficient, and cost-effective. The change will lower the state’s cost of testing for contagious animal diseases and eliminate duplication of state-funded operations.
Historically, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement has not effectively collected or used data to assess and prioritize regulatory processes such as audits, which state law requires to be risk-based. The Sunset Commission directed the agency to improve its approach to audits, contracting, and overall decision-making. Although the agency’s Sunset bill did not pass, these management directives should lead to operational improvements.
To improve consistency and efficiency of operations at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Legislature required the agency to adopt policies to guide its enforcement processes, and to standardize its regulatory programs to the extent feasible. The department must also refine existing strategic planning efforts and establish a more complete and formal internal audit process.
Broader Public Engagement
Sunset’s review of the Teacher Retirement System found a major disconnect between the agency and the retired teachers it serves, resulting in poor service and confusing requirements, particularly about the process to appeal agency decisions. Sunset required the agency’s board of trustees to appoint an independent ombudsman to monitor these interactions and recommend improvements, and required the agency to develop a strategic plan to communicate with and engage its customers.
Despite the Texas Department of Agriculture’s broad reach across Texas, it lacked an effective strategy to engage stakeholders statewide. The Legislature increased opportunities for public input into the department’s activities by authorizing the creation of advisory committees and requiring a strategic planning process with public input for inspections. Sunset also directed the department to improve information for the public on its website about its regulations and operations.
More Effective Public Safety
Having clear standards for jails is critical to the mission of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to protect both inmates and the public. For years, however, the agency set vague, ineffective requirements for how jails are managed and operated. Sunset directed the agency to develop more specific and effective jail standards that account for risk. Further, Sunset legislation requires the agency to implement risk-based inspections and more consistent enforcement protocols, with escalating penalties for noncompliance.
Complaints are an important tool in identifying and addressing regulatory violations that could harm the public. Sunset directed 11 agencies to more clearly explain their complaint filing procedures and final decisions to complainants, and to strengthen and formalize their processes for reviewing and investigating complaints, taking enforcement actions, and tracking, analyzing, and reporting complaint data. For example, Sunset directed the Credit Union Department to overhaul its complaints process and more clearly communicate its authority and process for investigating complaints.
Examples of Other Major Sunset Changes Since 1977
Nationally recognized best practices for state regulatory programs. Much of Sunset’s work focuses on reviewing occupational licensing and regulatory agencies to identify unnecessary or subjective barriers to working in Texas. Sunset’s own nationally recognized model of best practices for evaluating regulatory laws, agencies, and programs ensures the regulation serves a needed purpose and is fair, impartial, and transparent to the public and regulated businesses and individuals.
Sunset’s model has enabled the Texas Legislature to streamline and reduce regulation, continuing to protect the public while removing legal barriers such as unneeded residency and education requirements, subjective licensing qualifications, and excessive hours of training, practice, and continuing education. In recent sessions, Sunset eliminated 68 types of licenses, registrations, and permits held by more than 100,000 businesses and individuals in low-risk fields such as cemetery brokers, real estate instructors, and guard dog trainers. Further, Sunset eliminated eight low-risk health regulatory programs and improved the efficiency and effectiveness of 17 other occupational licensing programs by moving them to more appropriate agencies.
Modernization of Prohibition-era alcoholic beverage laws.
During a review of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Sunset found that Texas regulated the alcoholic beverage industry under laws that were largely unchanged since they were enacted in 1935, shortly after Prohibition ended. The Sunset review strengthened the agency’s ability to regulate the influential alcoholic beverage industry; simplified a byzantine licensing structure by reducing licenses and permits from 75 to 36; collapsed separate beer and ale regulatory programs based solely on alcohol content into a single malt beverage category and lowered state taxes on malt beverages; streamlined a lengthy label approval process; and allowed small brewpubs to sell malt beverages to go. Elected officials, regulators, and stakeholders praised the unprecedented modernization of alcoholic beverage laws achieved through the Sunset process.
Aligned regulation of behavioral health professions.
The Legislature consolidated four behavioral health regulatory agencies into a new umbrella licensing agency, based on Sunset’s findings of serious problems such as backlogs in processing licensing applications and investigating complaints. The Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council now oversees and coordinates the licensing and regulation of marriage and family therapists, professional counselors, psychologists, and social workers. This new structure aligns and improves regulation, standardizes licensing and enforcement, and creates administrative efficiencies and economies of scale, while preserving each profession’s individual standards.
Innovative criminal justice programs. Based in part on a Sunset review of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Legislature invested about $241 million in offender treatment and rehabilitation programs, money that would have otherwise been appropriated for new prisons. The diversion programs reduced recidivism and incarceration rates, saving an estimated $210.5 million in the first year alone, and led to the closure of the Central Unit in Sugar Land — the first time in history Texas closed a state prison.
The Sunset process also created the Texas Juvenile Justice Department by combining the Texas Youth Commission, which provided state care to serious youth offenders, and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, which oversaw county juvenile probation programs. The two agencies had operated in silos, resulting in almost no strategic planning for the integration of state and county services, ineffective sharing of critical information on youth moving through the system, and limited means for directing resources to programs that work. Creating a unified juvenile justice system anchored by a single state agency helped reduce inefficiencies and provide more seamless care for youth offenders.
Integrated state health and human services.
Sunset reviews led to major reforms of the state’s vast health and human services system, consolidating 12 agencies into a more integrated system of five agencies and moving the functions of two abolished agencies to the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). Sunset also reorganized, aligned, and improved public services that significantly affect clients of Texas’ health and human services system. The Sunset process improved specific programs, such as the training and supervision of caseworkers at the Department of Family and Protective Services to better protect children and vulnerable adults, reduce staff turnover, and increase caseworkers’ time spent with children and families. Sunset also addressed major problems with HHSC’s Office of Inspector General to improve detection of fraud, waste, and abuse.
More transparent, fair environmental regulations.
Based on two Sunset reviews of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Legislature adopted a more consistent and transparent approach to protecting the environment by using compliance history to encourage better performance and take appropriate enforcement actions. Sunset reviews of the Railroad Commission of Texas increased the oil and gas industry’s financial responsibility for oil field cleanup and well plugging, and strengthened regulatory authority over pipelines.
New financing tools and transparency for state transportation projects.
Sunset reviews of the Texas Department of Transportation provided new tools to meet transportation needs, including creating the State Infrastructure Bank to help fund local transportation projects, encouraging privatization of engineering services, and improving monitoring of highway contracts. Sunset also focused on restoring legislative and public trust in the department, resulting in a more integrated and understandable transportation planning process, a system to measure progress in meeting state transportation goals, a public involvement policy, and procedures for handling complaints.
Streamlined, more accountable state pension plans.
The Sunset process led to a more equitable state pension system for teachers and state employees by allowing people who had worked for both the Employees Retirement System of Texas and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas to combine their years of service for retirement eligibility. Sunset legislation also changed pension calculations, increasing pension checks for many retired teachers. Sunset strengthened oversight of the Employees Retirement System’s board and transparency of the agency’s alternative investments, provided more opportunities for stakeholder input in the group benefits program, and enabled members to directly participate in the insurance appeals process.
Cost controls and better oversight in public education
Sunset established significant cost control measures for textbooks approved by the state for use in public schools, and overhauled state regulation of private technical schools that charged high prices but provided little education to students. Sunset reviews of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board restructured student loan forgiveness programs, increased stakeholder influence, and focused the agency on effectively coordinating higher education instead of regulation. Sunset also created better regulatory tools to improve schools with serious academic and financial accountability problems, especially chronically poor-performing charter schools