The last day of the 2019 session arrived and the legislature had failed to renew a state agency – the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners (TSBPE) – and it was expires later that year, according to the sunset evaluation process. A effort to hand it over to the Department of Licensing and Regulation failed and there was no corresponding safety net legislation.
Citing health and safety concerns, plumbers across the state raised the alarm. An Austin plumbing instructor told me The Texan At the time, “These permits and codes were a response to a tragedy in our history that affected an individual or group and resulted in illness or death.”
Others, such as Arif Panju of the Institute of Justice, saw it as an opportunity to lower regulatory barriers to entry.
“By relying on less restrictive regulatory alternatives such as permits and inspections at the local level, and less restrictive voluntary alternatives such as private certification, the state will be well positioned to address the shortage of plumbing professionals that has long plagued our state,” he claimed.
Ultimately, Governor Greg Abbott intervened, using the Texas Disaster Act and the disaster statement for Hurricane Harvey to expand the TBSPE via the 87th legislative session.
On Monday, the House’s first sunset bill was passed TSBPE’s extension. Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) managed to do it successfully modify the legislation to make individuals who have completed a “career and technology education program” eligible for the licensing process.
It further requires the TSBPE to work with the Texas Education Agency in conducting that transition program and prohibits the board from forcing the licensee to pay a fee or register as an apprentice prior to the application.
The bill was followed by the same legislation for the Retirement System for Texas Teachers and the “Sunset Safety NetBill – extending the expiration date of 20 entities from 2021 to 2023 in case the legislature does not renew them during the session.
Critics of the safety net legislation say it defeats the goal of the sunset process: forcing lawmakers to approve and prioritize only what is necessary and efficient. Proponents say it prevents the unintentional expiration of an agency, causing the legislature to abolish its duty or, for whatever reason, mislead a proposed renewal – as in the case of TBSPE.
On the floor of Texas House Tuesday, the author of the safety net bill, Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburgh), asked by Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City) on exactly that: why the legislation is needed.
“This is a bill that we pass every year that we are here in the legislature to make sure that if this body, or the corresponding body on the other side of the hall, does not pass for some reason [the sunset legislation]”Canales replied,” that agency is not being abolished accidentally or because we have not done our job. “
Slaton’s hanging focused on the possibility that a bill would not go through necessary committee hearings and public testimony and that the agency would still be effectively renewed.
“I have a feeling it will put these unelected bureaucratic agencies on autopilot and I will vote ‘no’,” concluded Slaton.
Every odd year, the Texas legislature is tasked with evaluating the effectiveness of the government agencies it has authorized. This is called the sunset review process and is overseen by the Sunset Advisory Commission (SAC), which is made up of 12 lawmakers, half of the House and the other half of the Senate.
The process was introduced in 1977 and since its inception 41 agencies or programs have been completely phased out. In total, 131 agencies fall under the sunset rating.
Sunset Reviews, the SAC website states, promote “a culture of continuous improvement in state government by providing an objective, impartial public forum for evaluating the need for government agencies and their effectiveness, efficiency and responsiveness to the public.”
The SAC further touts $ 1 billion in lifetime savings. During its 2019 session, the SAC stated that 68 types of licenses have been eliminated, more than 20 “unnecessary licensing barriers” have been removed, and a handful of agency or board consolidations have been approved.
The process starts with evaluations by SAC employees who then make recommendations to legislators about what changes or revisions should be made. Since 2001, the SAC has stated that 80 percent of its recommendations have become law.
Public hearings are then held by the SAC, in which agencies pitch on the recommendations and public testimony is heard. From there, accounts are drawn up for each agency and the typical legislative process begins.
According to the state code, after expiry, an agency may continue its activities until September 1 of the following year to “complete its activities”.
According to the SAC, the last six cases of state entity abolition through the sunset review process are:
- Texas Residential Construction Commission, 2009
- Texas-Israel Exchange Fund Board, 2009
- Electronic Government Program Management Office of the Department of Information Resources, 2011
- Advisory Committee Equine Research Account, 2011
- Interagency Task Force for Children with Special Needs, 2015
- Central Colorado River Authority, 2017
While the legislature has used the process to get rid of some entities for the past decade, the legislature usually opts for revisions to existing ones. The SAC did not immediately have the last statewide ward that was sunset. Due to the fracas of the plumbers who booked the last session, the legislature was confident he would not repeat the same mistake this year.