Around the Texas Capitol: State agencies in Sunset review, runoff results and more

Around the Texas Capitol: State agencies in Sunset review, runoff results and more

Note: Content below was posted and current as of June 14, 2022.

Around the Texas Capitol:
State agencies in Sunset review, runoff results and more

By Lauren Fairbanks, Shayne Woodard and J Pete Laney
TAD Governmental Affairs

As we’ve mentioned in previous editions of the Dairy Dispatch, the interim is a busy time at the Texas Legislature. It is a time for senators and representatives to take a deeper look into policy initiatives that the constraints of a 140-day legislative session don’t necessarily allow for.

Interim House and Senate committee hearings are underway, and testimony from those hearings will ultimately inform the committee’s direction in interim committee reports that will be issued later this year, ahead of the start of the next legislative session in January.

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, a 12-member legislative commission made up of five House members, five senators and two members of the public, is also hard at work this interim. The Commission is charged with identifying and eliminating waste, duplication and inefficiency in Texas government. The Commission considers ways to improve each state agency operationally and forces critical thinking about the need for and performance of an agency and its programs.

Each state agency is on a 12-year review cycle by the Commission. Several agencies of particular interest to the dairy industry and rural Texas are under review this cycle. Before we dive into what is at stake during the review process, let’s take a look at how the Commission functions.

Sunset began in 1977 as a way to cut excess government spending and hold state agencies accountable. Its main function is to propose recommendations to the Texas Legislature, which can then file bills incorporating those suggestions. About 130 state agencies are subject to a Sunset review, with 20-30 of them going through the Sunset review process each legislative session. An agency under review is automatically abolished unless a bill is passed to extend the existence of the agency. These bills also include reforms to streamline an agency’s functions.

The Commission carries out its work in three stages over a two-year cycle. The first stage involves an evaluation of the agencies by Sunset Commission staff. The staff undertakes extensive research and analysis to evaluate each agency and to ultimately determine if it is meeting its mission, goals and objectives. Staff research includes interviews with agency staff and various stakeholders.

Once research is concluded, the Commission publishes a report with recommendations which typically aim to eliminate wasteful programs, or programs that serve similar functions in multiple agencies. Sunset identifies issues within the agency and then drafts a series of proposals on how the problems can be remedied.

The Commission then deliberates the staff recommendations, and the agency under review presents its response on the Sunset staff report during a public hearing. Public testimony is also part of this hearing. The Sunset Commission then holds a separate decision meeting to vote on whether to approve the staff report or amend it. Changes adopted can go beyond the staff report and often are added to address issues raised by the agency or the public. Changes, however, are not policy changes and focus solely on the agency’s operation and function.

In the third stage of the Sunset process, bill drafters at the Texas Legislature write a Sunset bill to enact what the Sunset Commission has approved. Sunset bills go through the normal legislative process during the regular session. During this stage, Sunset staff may testify as resource witnesses on the bills when they are heard in legislative committees. Like all bills, the full Legislature must ultimately approve Sunset bills before they are sent to the governor for consideration.

It is important to note that the broad nature of a Sunset bill’s caption makes it germane to many unrelated amendments. In recent history, the goal has been to keep Sunset bills “clean” and free of amendments that are policy-driven (rather than focus on the specific functions of an agency). Though well-intentioned, this is rarely the case. As time runs out in the 140-day session, members’ stand-alone policy measures fail to meet deadlines, the chances of passage narrow, and they look for other options, such as a Sunset bill. This makes monitoring Sunset measures extremely important as they move through the legislative process.

Relevant Agencies Currently Under Sunset Review

For the complete list of agencies being reviewed this cycle, click here.

  • Texas Economic Development and Tourism Office
  • Electric Reliability Council of Texas
  • Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
  • Public Utility Commission of Texas
  • Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board
  • State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (Limited scope review)
  • Texas Water Development Board
  • State Water Implementation Fund for Texas Advisory Committee

Sunset Impact To-Date

  • 41 agencies and programs abolished.
  • 51 agencies and programs abolished and transferred or consolidated.
  • $1 billion in state and federal savings and revenue gains.
  • Return of $19 for every $1 appropriated to Sunset Commission since 1985.
  • 551 reviews of state agencies and programs.
  • Since 2001, 80% of the Sunset Commission recommendations to the Legislature have become state law.


Texas’ primary runoff election was held May 24. Fifty races (including Congressional seats) in the March 1 primary were pushed to a runoff when no candidate exceeded 50% of the vote threshold required to win outright. The top two vote getters faced each other in the runoff.

The winner in each race will face the other major party’s nominee in the general election on Nov. 8. Most legislative seats were determined in the primary, and only a handful of “swing” seats are left in the Texas Legislature after the last round of redistricting.

As anticipated, voter turnout was extremely low. Overall turnout was 5.35% for Republicans and 2.79% for Democrats. By comparison, the 2022 Republican Primary turnout was 1,954,172 (11.37% of registered voters), and 2022 Democratic Primary turnout, was 1,075,601 (6.26% of registered voters).

Historically, incumbents have not fared well if pushed to a runoff election. In the last 25 years, 34 incumbents were forced into runoffs, of which 27 of them ultimately lost their reelection bids. That trend shifted a bit this cycle, however. Only one incumbent who was pushed to a runoff was defeated. Rep. Phil Stephenson (R-Wharton) was defeated by Stan Kitzman. Kitzman of Pattison is the general manager of the Brookshire-Katy Drainage District. He served as Waller County Commissioner from 2011-2014. Kitzman had received the endorsement of Gov. Greg Abbott, Comptroller Glenn Hegar and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller ahead of the runoff election.

Click here to find results for each race that was on the runoff ballot.




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