A View of the Sunset

This week's debate on the PUC shows why the sunset process continues to shine light on good government.
Fri March 22, 2013 10:15 am

The 83rd Lege has started to hear this session’s “sunset” bills. The first to come to the House floor, on Wednesday, concerned the Public Utility Commission. It passed, but as Paul Burka explained on BurkaBlog, there was a bit of a scrap on the floor:

Every now and then, the House of Representatives finds itself involved in a battle that no one expected and is of absolutely no consequence. Such a battle occurred yesterday…

Sunset bills have been included in every legislative session since the Texas Sunset Commission was created in 1977. The idea was that every state agency should be subject to occasional external reviews, adjusted as necessary, and reauthorized only if the agency as a whole continues to serve a purpose. Under the terms of the process, agencies that aren’t actively reauthorized are abolished by default. In practice, agencies are generally tweaked rather than sunsetted outright, but the fact that they have to be explicitly reauthorized means that every state agency gets a close look once every twelve years. The result is that all the reforms that might not make it through the regular session—the useful ideas that get lost in the shuffle or quietly killed by lobbyists—get a second chance.

The value of the exercise was clear by 1993, when there was so much controversy over the Texas sunset process that Texas Monthly was moved to publish a whole story about it. Sunset legislation, explained Burka in that piece, “is like an express train”:

It can’t be sidetracked or derailed in committee; it can’t be delayed to death; it can’t be voted

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