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|
2019 Legislative Session Highlights
The Sunset Commission reviewed 32 agencies for the 86th Legislative Session and adopted 426 statutory and management recommendations. The Legislature adopted 92 percent of Sunset’s 275 statutory recommendations and made further changes through the Sunset bills to improve state government.
Sunset bills passed by the Legislature in 2019 made significant changes, including:
Eliminating 68 types of licenses, registrations, and permits held by more than 100,000 businesses and individuals.
Removing more than 20 unnecessary licensing barriers at a dozen state regulatory agencies.
Consolidating four behavioral health boards into a single new agency.
Combining the agency that regulates land surveyors with the agency that regulates professional engineers.
Transferring six state historic sites and one regulatory program to more appropriate agencies with similar functions.
Reducing state fees and excise taxes on alcoholic beverages by nearly $400,000 annually.
More Accountable, Efficient State Government
Consolidated the licensing and regulation of marriage and family therapists, professional counselors, psychologists, and social workers into the Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council, a new umbrella licensing agency. The executive council will align and improve regulation, standardize licensing and enforcement, and create administrative efficiencies and economies of scale, while preserving each profession’s individual standards.
Combined the two separate regulatory agencies for land surveyors and professional engineers into the new Texas Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. The move is intended to fix significant, longstanding problems at the land surveying board, such as poor budget management, a two-year backlog of complaint investigations, and faulty performance data tracking and reporting.
Transferred six state historic sites under the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to the Texas Historical Commission to focus on preserving their historical significance. The commission also will lead a master planning process for all state historic sites.
Transferred the poorly managed motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle safety training program at the Department of Public Safety to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, which has regulated other state driver education and safety programs since 2015.
Less Burdensome Regulation
Eliminated more than 100,000 licenses, permits, and registrations by removing unnecessary, duplicative, or obsolete regulations for a variety of businesses and professions, such as motor vehicle salvage agents, cemetery brokers, real estate instructors, guard dog trainers, and agents of alcoholic beverage manufacturers and distributors.
Removed more than 20 unnecessary barriers to licensure at a dozen agencies that regulate professions such as psychologists, physicians, land surveyors, and real estate brokers and agents. These barriers included unneeded residency and education requirements and oral exams, subjective qualifications, excessive hours of training and practice, and burdensome reference letter and notarization requirements.
Combined all malt beverages into one regulatory category beginning in 2021, when they will be regulated and taxed under the same laws for the first time since Prohibition ended. Other changes include lowering state excise taxes on malt beverages by $300,000 a year and reducing regulatory burdens for businesses that had to get separate licenses and permits, keep separate books, file separate tax reports, and comply with two sets of laws and rules for different types of malt beverages.
Streamlined the state’s duplicative process for approving alcoholic beverages sold in Texas by accepting federally approved labels for products that comply with state laws and reducing application fees by nearly $90,000 a year.
Removed requirement for more than 10,000 local government entities to get approval for their records retention schedules from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Extended non-commercial driver license terms from six to eight years and commercial driver license terms from five to eight years to help address long waits at state driver license offices.
Enhanced Public Safety
Improved the Department of Public Safety’s tracking of crime statistics and other key data to protect the Texas-Mexico border, and ensured the data will be shared with legislators, state and federal agencies, and the public to more effectively plan for border security programs and strategies.
Enhanced coordination between the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and county tax assessor-collectors to combat motor vehicle title fraud through better monitoring, controls, training, and contracting standards.
- Beginning in 2021, malt beverage containers must display the product’s alcohol content, similar to current requirements for distilled spirits and wine.
Examples of Other Major Sunset Changes Since 1977
Better Integrated Health and Human Services
Sunset reviews have 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 in 2003 and abolishing and transferring the functions of two agencies to the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) in 2015. Sunset also reorganized services along functional lines to better address problems of blurred accountability, fragmentation, and misaligned or poorly focused programs — all of which have real significance for how Texas serves clients of the health and human services system.
The Sunset process has improved specific programs, such as strengthening the Department of Family and Protective Services’ protection of children and vulnerable adults through better training and supervision of caseworkers, while removing burdens on staff to reduce turnover and increase time spent with children and families. Sunset also developed solutions to address major problems with HHSC’ s Office of Inspector General, which detects fraud, waste, and abuse.
Innovative Criminal Justice Programs
Based in part on a Sunset review of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in 2007, 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 in 2011 — the first time in history Texas closed a state prison.
A 2011 Sunset bill 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.
State Transportation Resources and Accountability
Sunset reviews of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) provided additional 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. The Sunset process also abolished the Texas Turnpike Authority in 1997 and transferred state toll functions to TxDOT, generating more revenue for road projects. In 2011, the Sunset process focused on restoring legislative and public trust in TxDOT, 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. Through the Sunset process, the Legislature also authorized a limited number of comprehensive development agreements and design-build contracts to help meet the state’s growing transportation needs.
In 2017, Sunset reviewed TxDOT after voters and the Legislature approved billions of dollars in dedicated transportation funding. The Legislature adopted Sunset recommendations to address continuing unresolved concerns such as lack of a transparent, performance-based planning and project selection process; project development and management inefficiencies affecting on-time and on-budget performance; and frequently delayed construction projects.
Streamlined State Regulations
Much of Sunset’s work focuses on reviewing occupational licensing and regulatory agencies. Sunset has developed a nationally recognized model of best practices for evaluating state laws, agencies, and programs to ensure regulation serves a needed purpose and is fair, impartial, and transparent to the public and regulated businesses and individuals. For example, Sunset evaluates agencies’ enforcement authority to ensure they can effectively enforce needed regulations to protect the public at minimal cost to taxpayers.
In 2009, the Sunset process abolished the Texas Residential Construction Commission because of fundamental flaws in regulating the residential construction industry that did more harm than good for homeowners filing complaints. A 2015 Sunset bill eliminated unneeded state regulation of eight low-risk health regulatory programs, and transferred 13 occupational licensing programs to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and four to the Texas Medical Board to improve their efficiency and effectiveness.
More Focused Oversight of Public Education
A 1988 Sunset review led to significant cost control measures for textbook purchases and overhauled state regulation of private technical schools, which charged high prices but provided little education to students. Sunset reviews of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in 2003 and 2013 restructured student loan forgiveness programs, increased stakeholder influence, and focused the agency on effective coordination, not regulation, of higher education. The Legislature adopted Sunset recommendations in 2013 and 2015 to transfer the Texas Education Agency’s regulatory responsibilities to more appropriate agencies and create better tools to address schools with serious academic and financial accountability problems, especially chronically poor-performing charter schools.
Greater Transparency in Natural Resources Regulation
Based on two Sunset reviews of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), 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 action. 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 improved the pipeline permitting process. A 2013 Sunset review transferred water utilities regulation from TCEQ to the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which has ratemaking expertise, allowing TCEQ to better focus on its environmental mission.
More Accountable, Efficient State Pension Plans
The 1993 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 service instead of having two separate plans. The Sunset bill also changed pension calculations, increasing pension checks for many retired teachers. In 2012, Sunset found the Office of Fire Fighters’ Pension Commissioner had stopped performing many of its original functions and was providing inappropriate technical assistance and advocacy to local plans. The Legislature adopted Sunset’s recommendation to abolish the agency and transfer oversight of local firefighter pensions to the State Pension Review Board. In 2017, the Sunset review of the Employees Retirement System increased board oversight and transparency of the agency’s alternative investments and improved.