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proven track record of abolishing unnecessary state agencies and programs, lowering state expenditures, and modernizing outdated state laws.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 improvements 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. The process has also reduced state regulation of businesses and occupations, while continuing to protect the public and providing a more equitable path to working in Texas. 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|
2023 Legislative Session Highlights
During the 2022-23 biennium, Sunset evaluated 21 entities, most of which related to natural resources and criminal justice. Ultimately, the 88th Legislature adopted many changes recommended by the Sunset Commission, passing a state budget and Sunset bills that contained 95 percent of the commission’s funding and statutory recommendations. Together, the commission’s five funding recommendations, 138 statutory changes, and 85 management directives will position the agencies and entities to better serve and protect the people of Texas. Significant changes adopted through the Sunset process this biennium are highlighted below.
Securing Needed Investments
To help the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) accomplish its critical and expanding responsibilities, the Legislature adopted the Sunset Commission’s recommendations to appropriate the agency additional funds. These investments will help the historically under-resourced agency improve its capacity to analyze electric industry data and regulate water and wastewater utilities.
The Sunset Commission found the Texas Juvenile Justice Department’s (TJJD) staffing crisis perpetuates the agency’s cycle of instability and limits the state’s ability to fully implement needed structural reforms. The Legislature appropriated $83 million for salary increases for certain TJJD and county staff, and an additional $230 million for the construction of new state facilities and local placement and diversion grants.
Ensuring More Effective Oversight
Sunset’s second consecutive review of the Anatomical Board of the State of Texas (SAB) found that while the state continues to have an interest in overseeing whole body donations, the agency cannot continue to perform this oversight effectively. As such, the Legislature transferred SAB’s functions to the Texas Funeral Service Commission and made several changes to refine and clarify the state’s regulation of whole body donations.
The Legislature attached the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) for a four-year period to address the systemic data collection, reliability, and analysis issues, and poor enforcement procedures that have plagued the agency. During this temporary attachment, TDLR will provide the board with policymaking and administrative oversight, guidance, and support.
Driving Strategic Decision Making
While the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) successfully provides loans and grants for projects in areas such as water supply, flood control, and agricultural conservation, a significant increase in workload challenges the agency’s ability to administer this function effectively. Sunset directed TWDB to collect and analyze information about its project review process and outreach efforts to eliminate inefficiencies and more effectively target agency activities.
Sunset found the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board insufficiently prepared to administer its $150 million dam structural repair program. For the remaining millions of unspent funds, the Legislature required the agency to develop and adopt a clear set of priorities, goals, and associated measures to ensure consistency, fairness, and accountability in fund administration.
Enhancing Public Engagement
As the state’s regulator of essential utilities, PUC has a duty to communicate well with the public. Sunset directed and the resulting Sunset bill required the agency to take steps to build a more robust and proactive approach to mass communications to ensure the public has the important information it needs and to provide additional opportunities for public input.
Sunset’s review of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) found an agency performing admirably to administer complex programs while also struggling against misperceptions and distrust of its role as the state’s environmental regulator. The Legislature enacted additional requirements for public information and solicitation of public input at TCEQ, and Sunset directed the agency to make its website more accessible.
To encourage greater public understanding and participation in the work of river authorities in Texas, Sunset directed the San Jacinto River Authority to develop a public engagement policy and improve its external communications strategy, and directed the San Antonio River Authority to conduct more comprehensive, inclusive strategic planning for projects in the basin.
Strengthening Enforcement Processes
Sunset’s review of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) found the state’s approach to law enforcement lags behind the needs of the state. As such, the Legislature required TCOLE to set and enforce standards for law enforcement agencies, and to develop model policies for agencies in key areas, such as personnel files and fit-for-duty examinations.
TCEQ’s compliance monitoring and enforcement processes needed improvements to consistently and equitably hold regulated entities accountable. The Legislature increased administrative penalties for certain harmful, repeat, and avoidable violations and Sunset directed TCEQ to enhance its oversight of permitted facilities’ compliance history.
Other Notable Achievements 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, and continue 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 the last two 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.
Improve efficiency of state licensing and regulatory programs. The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation’s (TDLR) functionally aligned structure allows it to eliminate duplicative administrative functions and maximize efficiency by performing similar licensing, customer service, and enforcement processes across all its programs. However, the 2020-21 Sunset review found that decades of receiving new or troubled programs stretched TDLR’s ability to take on additional responsibilities without jeopardizing the quality of service to licensees and the general public. Acknowledging this, the TDLR Sunset bill eliminated 29 unnecessary licenses; streamlined the regulation of barbers, cosmetologists, and driver training providers; and directed TDLR to be more data-driven in its inspection and enforcement processes to focus its resources on the highest risks to the public.
Modernization of Prohibition-era alcoholic beverage laws. During the 2018-19 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.
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.