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Featured, from left: RepAlex Domínguez, D-Brownsville; Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Dr. Guy Bailey, President, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Nolan Pérez, MD, of Harlingen, Member, Board of Regents, The University of Texas System; Rep. Óscar Longoria, D-La Joya; and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville.  The area leaders were participating in a news conference at the UTRGV campus in Edinburg on Monday, September 16, 2019.

Photograph By PAUL CHOUY

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Rep. Canales appointed as first House member from the Rio Grande Valley to serve on the 12-member Texas Sunset Advisory Commission

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, who serves as Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation, was appointed by Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, to the 12-member Texas Sunset
Advisory Commission on Friday, December 20, 2019.

In his newest statewide leadership role – which represents the first time a Valley state representative has been selected to serve on that legislative body – Canales will help shape recommendations for action by the Texas Legislature in 2021 on the fate of 21 state agencies, including the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Texas Department of Agriculture, and the Teacher Retirement System. 

“I feel humbled and privileged that Speaker Bonnen has chosen me for the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission,” said Canales. “We are tasked with assessing our state agencies to make them lean and efficient while providing all of the necessary services that they perform.”

For Canales, his selection to the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission once again places South Texas and the Coastal Bend in positions of additional influence, power and prestige when dealing with all state agencies, which often decide on where much of the state’s current $250 billion, two-year budget is invested.

“State agencies, especially, but not limited to, the 21 entities currently under our review, closely listen to the members of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, because those state agencies know that we are hearing the ideas and concerns of our constituents back home,” Canales said. “It is literally a matter of life-and-death for state bureaucracies, so we members of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission and the people we serve back home have the full attention of the state government.”

A strength of the Texas Sunset process is the high success rate of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission’s thoroughly vetted recommendations becoming law, according to the commission. Since 2001, 80 percent of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission’s statutory recommendations to the Legislature have become state law. These changes have positively affected almost every area of state government, as described in the Impact of Sunset.

The Texas Tribune, the only digital-first, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues, gives this view of the far-reaching impact of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission:

“The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, formed in 1978, is charged with eliminating inefficiency in state regulatory agencies — and sometimes does this by abolishing them altogether,” the publication explains. “But what’s with the name? Bottom line: The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission decides every 12 years if a state agency’s sun has set — hence the name.”

Since its creation, Canales becomes only the fourth state legislator representing the Rio Grande Valley to serve on this powerful legislative body: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, whose district includes Starr County, have also served with distinction in the past.

“I have always had a deep respect for the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission members because I know they work diligently to ensure the Texas government is operating at peak performance. I’m excited and eager to get to work and I am looking forward to furthering my commitment to all taxpayers that their tax dollars are used wisely,” continued Canales.

The Texas Legislature passed the Texas Sunset Act in 1977, at a time when scandals at both the federal and state level had eroded public confidence in government institutions. Texas was the second state in the country to create a Sunset process after Colorado did in 1976. Since then, 34 more states have adopted some form of Sunset process. The History of Sunset gives a full history of the Sunset Commission.

The Sunset process in Texas has three stages, according to the commission: 

• First, Sunset staff will evaluate the 21 state agencies currently under review, seek public input, and issue a report recommending solutions to problems found;

• Second, the Texas Sunset Commission will hold two public meetings: a hearing on the staff report and the agency, and a decision meeting to adopt recommendations to the Legislature based on the report and public comments; and

• Third, the Texas Legislature will convene in January 2021 and will consider Sunset’s statutory recommendations in a Sunset bill for the 21 state agencies currently under review.

Canales encouraged interested Texans to share their views by either sending an email to:

sunset@sunset.texas.gov 

and/or by submitting comments online at:

http://www.sunset.texas.gov

Anyone interested in receiving the Sunset review schedule, commission meeting schedule and agendas, staff reports, and other documents can sign up for the Sunset email list.

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission is comprised of five senators, five members of the House of Representatives, and two public members. 

In addition to Canales, Bonnen filled the four vacancies of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission with Rep. John P. Cyrier, R-Lockhart, as Chairman (the position of chair rotates between the House and the Senate every two years); Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Ft. Worth, and Ms. Julie Harris-Lawrence as the member of the public. Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, and Rep. Stan Lambert, R-Abilene, are returning members.

“Each legislative session, the Texas Legislature passes proposals to clean up and renew numerous state agencies, and when those bills are scheduled for the House floor, we all know that the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission has spent endless hours assessing every aspect of the agency’s financial books and programs, and the commission’s findings carry tremendous credibility with everyone in the Texas Legislature and beyond,” Canales continued.

Sunset conducts rigorous evaluations of each state agency or program to determine if the agency should be abolished. If the agency is needed, Sunset will evaluate nearly all of the agency’s functions from top to bottom to ensure efficacy and efficiency. Each state agency has an expiration period in the statute, and near the end of that period, the agency will be reviewed by the Sunset Advisory Commission.

The Sunset Commission has 131 agencies scheduled for review during the next 12 years. The Legislature sets the Sunset review schedule in law, but the agencies and their Sunset dates are subject to change every legislative session. Sunset is scheduled to evaluate an average of 22 agencies every two years through 2031. A few agencies under Sunset review are not subject to abolishment, such as river authorities and state agencies created by the Texas Constitution. Most judicial and higher education agencies are not subject to Sunset review.

The work of the commission has saved taxpayers upwards of $1 billion since 1982 and has been instrumental in cleaning up governmental waste to ensure every tax dollar is stretched to its maximum.

Agencies Under Review for the 2019–2021 Review Cycle 87th Legislative Session

• Agriculture, Texas Department of 
• Anatomical Board of the State of Texas 
• Animal Health Commission, Texas 
• Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, Texas 
• Brazos River Authority 
• Credit Union Department 
• Early Childhood Health and Nutrition Interagency Council 
• Economic Development and Tourism Office, Texas 
• Fire Protection, Texas Commission on 
• Holocaust and Genocide Commission, Texas 
• Jail Standards, Texas Commission on 
• Law Enforcement, Texas Commission on 
• Licensing and Regulation, Texas Department of ( Limited Scope Review ) 
• Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas 
• Prepaid Higher Education Tuition Board 
• Prescribed Burning Board 
• Racing Commission, Texas 
• San Jacinto River Authority 
• State-Federal Relations, Office of 
• Teacher Retirement System of Texas 
• Veterinary Medical Examiners, State Board of ( Limited Scope Review )

When was the Sunset Advisory Commission established in Texas?

The Texas Legislature created the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission and may abolish it by passing a bill during any legislative session. The Legislature has openly discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the Sunset process several times over the years. However, the advantages (as discussed in theImpact of Sunset) have always been determined to strongly outweigh the disadvantages.

In 2015, the Sunset Commission’s staff and process underwent a formal peer review by professionals from other state legislatures who specialize in program evaluation and public policy analysis. This review affirmed the Texas Sunset process as a leader among states, and also provided useful feedback to improve internal review procedures. Please refer to the NCSL Peer Review Report for the results of the peer review.

Doesn’t Texas already have oversight through audits and the budget process?

The Sunset Commission is one of several agencies that monitor state agencies’ performance, including the State Auditor’s Office, Legislative Budget Board, Governor’s Office of Budget and Planning, and legislative committees. Sunset regularly works with these agencies to avoid duplication of effort and to identify issues that may be addressed by Sunset or another agency.

Unlike other legislative oversight agencies that evaluate an agency’s financial accountability or compliance with state and federal laws, a Sunset review starts by asking a more fundamental question — is the state agency still needed? If the answer is yes, then Sunset evaluates the agency’s programs, operations, and success in fulfilling its mission. As part of the review, Sunset also seeks public input to identify problems and opportunities for improving the agency. The process creates a unique opportunity and powerful incentive for the Legislature and stakeholders to look comprehensively at each agency and make improvements to its mission and operations.

How else can Texans become involved, and follow the activities, of Sunset?

Anyone interested in receiving the Sunset review schedule, commission meeting schedule and agendas, staff reports, and other documents can sign up for the Sunset email list.

To provide input during the staff’s evaluation of an agency, contact Sunsetdirectly or fill out the public input form. Input received during an agency’s review prior to publication of the staff report is not subject to public disclosure under the Public Information Act.

After Sunset publishes a staff report, formally respond to the report in writing by filling out thepublic input form. These responses are considered public information, are subject to disclosure under the Public Information Act, and are published on the Sunset website.

The Sunset Commission holds a public hearing on each agency under review. Please check theSunset Commission Meetings page for the meeting schedule and agendas. These hearings provide the opportunity to testify about an agency and comment on the Sunset staff’s report and recommendations. 

To testify at a commission hearing, submit a witness affirmation form at the public hearing. Public hearings are webcast and archives are available.

The Sunset Commission’s recommendations on an agency under Sunset review are drafted into a bill that the Legislature must pass if the agency is to continue. Anyone can participate in the legislative process as they would with any other bill.

Persons with special needs or those who wish to request an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation should refer to Sunset’sAccommodations for People With Disabilities.

The Texas Legislature has the final say on Sunset recommendations

The Texas Legislature makes the final decisions on statutory changes to an agency, based on the Sunset Commission’s recommendations and public input. Typically, the Sunset Commission recommends whether to abolish or continue an agency or to combine the functions of two or more agencies to streamline state government. The commission also recommends statutory changes to solve problems identified in the Sunset staff report and during public hearings. In addition, the Sunset Commission can issue management directives to an agency to address operational concerns identified during the staff review or public hearing. A few agencies undergo a special purpose or limited review, focusing on specific topics and issues specified by the Legislature.

What changes cannot be made through Sunset?

Sunset does not get involved in individual complaints, grievances, or cases. Sunset is not an ombudsman’s office or an avenue for appeals. Rather, Sunset gathers general information on the types of complaints, grievances, and cases the agency has overall and assesses this information to see if a larger policy issue exists that can be addressed through the Sunset review process. The Sunset review process also does not consider requests for additional funding or staff; this should be done through the appropriations process.

What happens if an agency is abolished?

If an agency is abolished, the agency has one year to conclude its operations. The agency retains full authority and responsibility until the end of that year when all property and records are transferred to an appropriate state agency.

What standards guide a Sunset Review?

Please see Sunset review standards for more information.

Criteria in the Sunset Act 

The Legislature has established general criteria in the Texas Sunset Act (Sections325.011 and325.0115, Government Code) for the Sunset Commission and staff to consider when reviewing all agencies, as well as specific criteria for reviews of occupational licensing agencies. These criteria, summarized in theSunset Review Questions, generally focus on the efficiency, effectiveness, fairness, and accountability of an agency.

Across-the-Board-Recommendations (ATBs) 

Across-the-board recommendations (ATBs) are statutory administrative policies adopted by the Sunset Commission as standards for state agencies to ensure open, responsive, and effective government. Routinely applying these ATB recommendations to agencies reflects an effort by the Legislature to prevent problems from occurring, instead of reacting to problems after the fact. See a summary of each ATB.

Licensing and Regulation Model

The Sunset Licensing and Regulation Model is a collection of evolving standards based on past Sunset experience reviewing licensing agencies and programs, as well as other published best practices. The compilation of these standards provides a model for evaluating licensing and regulatory programs, promoting efficiency, effectiveness, fairness, and accountability to protect the public.

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Dylan Matthews contributed to this report. Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, is the Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County, which includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr, and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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