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Sundown on the Sunset Commission? TPPF Floats the Proposal

by Published on
State Rep. Rafael Anchia
Beth Cortez-Naveal
State Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) was obliged to defend the Sunset Commission’s role Thursday morning.

Members of the Sunset Advisory Commission were obliged to defend the commission’s role supervising state agencies Thursday morning at a Texas Public Policy Foundation conference in Austin—although the defense may not have been necessary. The panel, “Should Texas Sunset the Sunset Commission?” asked an apparently pressing question on the minds at TPPF, but hardly anybody else’s.

None of the four panelists—all members of the Sunset Commission—directly answered the question posed. Although state Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Friendswood), the Commission’s chairman, did mention at the very start of the panel that the answer is “rather simplistic.” Bonnen led with a fiscal defense of the commission’s work: “I can’t justify to someone who wants to create savings for the taxpayers in Texas a reason to eliminate an entity that helps create $161 million in revenue [per year].”  But, Bonnen added, there’s always room for improvement—the Commission’s unofficial motto.

The Sunset Advisory Commission is made up of ten appointed legislators, five from the House and five from the Senate, and two members of the general public. Since 1977, the Commission has been responsible for eliminating inefficiency in Texas government by treating most state agencies to a review—no gratuitous task, especially with agencies like the Commission on Jail Standards which, let’s say, have room for improvement. Every 12 years five or six state agencies reach their state-mandated expiration date and fall under review to be either decommissioned entirely, or kept alive usually as long as they make a few changes suggested by the Sunset Commission through filed legislative bills that have to be approved for the agency to continue—known as “must-pass” bills. The Railroad Commission, Public Utility Commission and the Texas Education Agency are just a few of the agencies up for review this session.

Fittingly, the Sunset Commission even reviews its own effectiveness every session before pointing any fingers at other state agencies.

So the real question on the panel should have been: Why did TPPF float the idea of scrapping the commission entirely? A recent editorial published in the Houston Chronicle and the TPPF website by the panel’s moderator Bill Peacock, sheds some light on how TPPF framed the question. Peacock, director of TPPF’s Center for Economic Freedom, is a champion of small government and free market principles, and in his editorial accused the sunset process of “unwarranted attempts to grow government.”

Peacock said the problem could be solved by “eliminating the ‘must-pass’ nature of sunset bills. Agencies would not be ‘sunsetted’ but would still undergo review, and if the sunset recommendations are worthwhile and can garner broad support, the bill will pass. If not, it won’t,” he wrote.

Those must-pass bills are a product of the entire legislative process, not the Sunset Commission, said Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas). “There’s no crisis in the sunset process,” he said. But he did “lament” that there are problems with the legislative process. “We do not write good law on the House floor,” Anchia said. The problem, he said, is that sunset bills are “so broad” that legislators who aren’t on the commission, suddenly introduce measures that haven’t been thoroughly vetted by either chamber as a policy proposal in a sunset bill. In the face of this “onslaught of amendments,” there’s not much commission members can do. “I have found some of the worst policy that we have made gets put on a sunset bill,” he said.

“I think sunset is a very necessary function, and it is necessary because the needs of Texas change over time,” he said. “The values of community also change over time and those social values need to be reflected in administrative agencies and how they approach the public.”

  • Chris Stewart

    The Sunset Advisory Commission
    -more ineffective government

    In 2012 The Sunset Advisory Commission began review of the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners.

    In their Staff Report / Decision Material

    They said these things:
    “The State Has a Continuing Need to Regulate Architects and Landscape Architects, but Not Interior Designers.”

    “The State does not have a clear interest in maintaining what is ultimately a voluntary registration program for interior designers, and its approach to regulating interior designers is ineffective. ”

    “Beyond the State’s ineffective approach to regulation, analysis of the Board’s complaint and enforcement files do not show that interior designers pose a significant risk to the public health, safety, or welfare.”

    “Recognizing the technical expertise necessary to practice the professions, the Legislature has set thresholds in statute for certain projects that can only be designed by an engineer or an architect.5 In contrast, statute does not specify any work that can only be done by a registered interior designer.”

    “State regulation of interior designers is duplicative of national certification.”

    “…the (TBAE) Board struggled to provide Sunset staff with complete and trustworthy data to show the results of its efforts.”

    “Another reason the Board has difficulty producing comprehensive enforcement data is that it has focused its efforts on customer service and outreach. While customer service and outreach may help the Board achieve better compliance with its regulatory requirements, the Board should be careful not to engage in these activities to the detriment of its regulatory functions.”


    But in their final Report to the 83rd Legislature
    They recommend continuing Interior Design Licensing and making it more restrictive.


    What was the justification for that decision?


    Here are some clues:

    Staff Report / Commission Decisions
    “Questioning basic regulatory approaches is difficult without the consent of the regulated community.”

    “…the regulated community plays a large role in all aspects of regulation, from pursuing it through the Legislature, funding it through fees, and overseeing it through policy bodies that make decisions on competence standards and enforcement actions.”

    “A consequence of this relationship is that the regulation tends to be of greater interest to the regulated community than to the public, at least collectively, beyond the scattered individuals who may suffer harm because of these regulated activities.”

    “In addition, an ongoing risk exists for any regulatory agency that it will become unduly influenced by the professionals it oversees.”

    “…the regulation of these design professionals generated almost $3.8 million to the General Revenue Fund to be used for other state purposes.”


    It appears that in the end the Sunset Advisory Board ultimately just submitted to the TBAE’s wish to continue Interior Design licensing.

    You have to wonder if the state was perhaps also not so interested in loosing 3.8 million in revenue. This is basically a hidden tax on anyone buying state regulated design services.

    And finally:
    “I can’t justify to someone who wants to create savings for the taxpayers in Texas a reason to eliminate an entity that helps create $161 million in revenue [per year].”
    Where does this person think those revenues are coming from other than Texas tax payers?