The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission assesses state agency programs and functions regularly on a 10-year cycle. In the upcoming 88th legislative session, the Commission will submit recommendations after reviewing twenty-one state agencies and authorities to evaluate their mission and performance. Some of the agencies that will be reviewed include those in the energy sector such as the Electric Reliability Council (ERCOT) and the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC). Reviews will also impact other environmental agencies including the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). HillCo Partners will start sending reports out during this process as they kick off their review and for public hearings which started in September of 2021 and will continue until January 2023 when they have submitted recommendations for all the agencies under review.

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission was established in 1977 with the purpose to enhance government accountability to the Legislature and people of Texas by objectively evaluating the need for and value of state programs and services. HillCo Partners will continue to follow the Sunset process throughout the legislative process as well as when discussions began. The Commission is comprised of a 12-member legislative committee which contains 5 senators, 5 representatives and 2 members of the public, all appointed by the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House. For the Senate: Charles Schwertner (Chair), Charles Perry, Nathan Johnson, Angela Paxton, Drew Springer, and public member James “Jim” Lee. For the House: Justin Holland (Vice Chair), Keith Bell, Terry Canales, Travis Clardy, Craig Goldman, and public member Jeff Austin III.

Overall, the Sunset review process is designed to provide the legislature with an opportunity to closely examine an agency’s mission, priorities, and performance and take action to address problems identified. The Sunset process works by setting an expiration date in law for state agencies. The review process for each agency will begin before its expiration date and the legislature will typically need to pass a bill to continue an agency past this date. However, HillCo Partners was also monitoring the situation in 2019 when the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners was on track to shut down by September 1, 2020 due the Sunset legislation not passing during the 86th Regular Session. In that occurrence, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order delaying abolishment until the 87th Legislative Session. As highlighted in the above example, the Sunset Review process complexities require careful attention so the team at HillCo Partners continues to remain engaged through the entire legislative and rule making process as Texas lobbyists.

Typically, Sunset legislation will include provisions streamlining agency operations, abolishing inactive advisory committees, or restructuring licensing programs. Legislation will generally extend an agency for 12 years; however Sunset dates can be set earlier to follow up on recommendations. Members of the public are invited to participate at all the public stages such as input during the staff review phase and speaking during public comments of Sunset public hearings on the agency. The public is also able to participate during the legislative committee hearings and the legislative process. If a member of the public wishes to participate in the Sunset process, they can find further details here.

Usually once the legislation passes for agencies under review, a bill commonly referred to as the safety net will pass out of both chambers. In that safety net bill, there will be a confirmation of the agencies’ timelines for the next cycle of review. Once that is confirmed, during the fall of an odd number year, agencies selected for review will submit self-evaluation reports. Following these reports Sunset staff will conduct evaluations, prepare reports, hold public hearings, and make decisions on which changes to recommend to the legislature. The HillCo team sends out updates and reports during these hearings and as various stages of report are released. The Sunset Commission will submit a report of recommendations they made during the start of the legislative session every biennium. At that point the process will then pivot to the legislative session. At this time, lawmakers will consider the Sunset bills on agencies under review. The Sunset bill goes through the normal legislative process. The bill will either pass or fail adoption, which will result in an agency continuing with improvements or being abolished.

Over the years 79 agencies have been abolished, including 37 agencies that were completely abolished and 42 that were abolished with certain functions transferred to existing or newly created agencies. According to the Sunset About Us page, “estimates from reviews conducted between 1982 and 2013 indicate a 31-year positive fiscal impact of approximately $945.6 million, compared with expenditures of $37.2 million for the Sunset Commission. Based on these figures, every dollar spent on the Sunset process has earned the State approximately $25 in return.”

Every state entity other than universities, courts and agencies established by the state constitution is subject to periodic review by the Sunset Commission. Today, there are approximately 130 state agencies subject to the Texas Sunset Act but only a handful will undergo the process each cycle. As the Commission considers the recommendations, hears public testimony, and decides on a package of changes to bring to the full Legislature it is critical to monitor all the various stages of the process; HillCo Partners has spent over 20 years garnering insight and experience as it continuously monitors and stays engaged in the Sunset process.