The Sunset process has significantly streamlined and improved Texas government over its nearly 40-year history. Created by the Texas Legislature in 1977, Sunset is a key legislative oversight tool, providing an objective, nonpartisan public forum for evaluating the need for, effectiveness, efficiency, and responsiveness of state agencies, and promoting a culture of continuous improvement within state government. The History of Sunset gives a full history of the Sunset Commission.
Changes enacted through the Sunset process demonstrate its positive impact for Texas. Sunset has a proven track record of reducing the number of government programs, saving the state money, and effectively passing needed reforms into law.
Key Sunset outcomes, highlighted in the textbox Sunset’s Impact Since 1977, illustrate Sunset’s success. More difficult to measure, but just as significant, are the major policy reforms resulting from the Sunset process, some of which are highlighted below. Changes enacted through the Sunset process have positively affected almost every area of state government, primarily by eliminating overlap and duplication among agencies and programs, increasing public participation and government accountability for citizens, and improving the quality and efficiency of service delivery.
|Streamlining State Government||Saving Taxpayer Money||Providing Effective Oversight|
Highlights of Sunset Reforms
In 2007, based in part on the Sunset review and resulting recommendations on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Legislature invested about $241 million in offender treatment and rehabilitation programs that would have otherwise been appropriated for the construction and operations of new prisons. These diversion efforts resulted in lower recidivism and incarceration rates, saving an estimated $210.5 million in the first year of implementation and leading to the closure of the Central Unit in Sugar Land in 2011 — the first time in history Texas closed a state prison.
In 2011, the Legislature passed the Sunset bill that merged the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission — the former overseeing county juvenile probation programs and the latter providing state care to more serious youth offenders — into a new Texas Juvenile Justice Department. By streamlining state-level juvenile justice functions, the new law reduced organizational barriers to create a more seamless system that enhances both outcomes for youth and public safety.
Health and Human Services
Sunset’s two efforts to review the state’s vast health and human services system have contributed to major reforms over the years, starting with reviews in the late 1990s and culminating most recently in 2015. Sunset’s early work supported the Legislature’s action in 2003 to begin consolidating twelve separate health and human services agencies into a more integrated system of five agencies. Sunset’s next review during the 2014–2015 review cycle resulted in additional changes to further reshape the system. The 2015 HHSC Sunset bill abolished the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) in 2016 and the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) in 2017, consolidating their functions into HHSC. Beyond these two agencies, the bill reorganized all services within the system along functional lines to better address ongoing problems of fragmentation, misaligned or poorly focused programs, and blurred accountability — all of which have real significance for how Texas serves clients across the health and human services system.
In 2015, Sunset also made numerous recommendations to improve how specific programs within the system operate — for example, targeting changes to the Department of Family and Protective Services’ (DFPS) most basic, day-to-day responsibilities to protect children and vulnerable adults. The Sunset process removed unnecessary burdens on caseworkers to improve retention and increase the time they spend with children and families while also encouraging better training and supervision. Sunset also identified major problems with HHSC’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) — the entity charged with detecting fraud, waste, and abuse within the system. The 2015 OIG Sunset bill provided a roadmap to fix this broken entity characterized by its lack of fair, defensible processes and demonstrated results. Changes included refocusing OIG on its core mission and establishing clear criteria and timelines for OIG investigations and sanctions.
The 1997 Sunset review of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) provided additional tools to meet transportation needs through existing resources and without increasing taxes or fees. Key among these tools was establishing a State Infrastructure Bank to help fund local transportation projects, encouraging greater privatization of engineering services, and improving the monitoring of highway contracts. The 1997 review also abolished the Texas Turnpike Authority and transferred state toll functions to TxDOT, providing an additional revenue source for roadway projects.
In 2011, the Sunset review focused on restoring legislative and public trust in TxDOT by requiring a more integrated and understandable transportation planning process, increased public involvement and stronger internal controls. Through the Sunset process, the 2011 Legislature also authorized TxDOT and regional mobility authorities to enter into a limited number of comprehensive development agreements and design-build contracts, and transferred the regulation of oversize and overweight vehicles to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.
Much of Sunset’s work over the years has focused on reviewing professional licensing and regulatory agencies, a key responsibility of state government. Sunset has developed nationally recognized model best practices for evaluating how state licensing and regulatory programs operate. Through each licensing or regulatory review, Sunset looks at every aspect of a program to ensure regulation is serving a needed purpose and regulatory agencies conduct their business with fairness, impartiality, and transparency to the public and regulated groups. Common recommendations include ensuring licensing agencies have clear and responsive complaint procedures, and basic authority to effectively enforce needed regulations at minimal cost to taxpayers.
Beyond applying these general best practices to most regulatory agencies under review, the Sunset process has resulted in major changes to certain industries. In 2008, Sunset staff recommended abolishing the Texas Residential Construction Commission because of fundamental flaws in the State’s approach to regulating the residential construction industry. After considering and rejecting several ideas to strengthen the regulation of home builders, the Legislature abolished the commission on September 1, 2009. More recently, the 2015 Department of State Health Services Sunset bill streamlined the agency’s unmanageable regulatory responsibilities to allow it to focus on its core public health mission. The bill eliminated unneeded state regulation of eight low–risk regulatory programs and transferred 13 occupational licensing programs to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and four to the Texas Medical Board where they would be more effectively administered.
Early Sunset reviews of the State Textbook Committee and Texas Education Agency in the 1980s resulted in significant cost control measures for textbook purchases and a complete overhaul of state oversight of private technical schools, which were charging high prices with little education provided to students. The 2003 and 2013 reviews of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board restructured student loan forgiveness programs and ensured the agency remains focused on effective coordination, not regulation, of higher education and enhanced meaningful consideration of input from stakeholders. While the Legislature did not pass the bills containing all of Sunset’s recommendations on the Texas Education Agency in 2013 or 2015, many Sunset provisions did pass in other legislation during those sessions — including transferring TEA’s regulatory responsibilities to other, more appropriate agencies; and giving the agency better tools to address schools with serious academic and financial accountability problems, especially chronically poor-performing charter schools.
Natural Resources / Energy
Through two reviews of Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) — in 2011 and its predecessor in 2001 — the Legislature instituted a more consistent and transparent approach to protect the environment by using entities’ compliance history to encourage better performance and to take appropriate enforcement action. Through two reviews of the Railroad Commission in 2011 and 2001, the Legislature enacted changes to ensure greater responsibility by the oil and gas industry instead of the taxpayers to pay for oil field cleanup and well plugging. Through Sunset reviews in 2013, the Legislature transferred regulation of water utilities from TCEQ to the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to align with PUC’s ratemaking expertise and allow TCEQ to better focus on its environmental mission.
Sunset reviews of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) have focused on improving internal oversight within the agency and customer service to the general public. In 1999, the Legislature adopted Sunset Commission recommendations to provide additional resources and authority to create an Office of Audit and Review, change vehicle emission testing and safety inspection programs to better ensure vehicles comply with emission and safety standards, and authorize electronic renewal of drivers licenses. In 2009, the DPS Sunset bill focused on further modernizing the agency by requiring DPS to manage its vehicle inspection program as a civilian business operation with established goals and performance outcomes, and strengthening the office of inspector general.
Following the Sunset Commission’s review of the Employees Retirement and Teacher Retirement Systems, the 1993 Sunset bill changed the old practice of penalizing people who had worked in both systems and allowed people to be treated as if they had been in one system throughout their career. The Sunset bill also changed pension calculations, increasing pension checks for many retired teachers.
The 2012 Sunset review of the Office of Fire Fighters’ Pension Commissioner found that this small agency had long ceased to perform many of its original functions and the ineffective technical assistance and advocacy the office provided to local plans was also inappropriate. As a result, the Legislature adopted Sunset’s recommendation to abolish this agency and instead charge the Pension Review Board with overseeing local firefighter pensions.
Special Local Government Reviews
In 2011, through the Sunset process, the Legislature made needed changes in law to ensure that the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Austin more responsibly managed its finances and reserves, lowered its excessive labor costs, and prioritized needed maintenance of its outdated railroad bridges.
In 2013, a special Sunset review of the Port of Houston Authority provided the opportunity to change the organization’s culture and governance following a series of missteps and controversies. The Sunset bill made immediate changes to the Authority’s governing board, including requiring appointment of several new Port Commissioners and strengthening ethics standards.