SUNSET COMMISSION WRAPS UP INTERIM WORK
(AUSTIN) — The Sunset Advisory Commission of Texas held its final meeting of the 84th Interim Session on Wednesday, approving a number of recommendations relating to the agency charged with overseeing medical practice in Texas as well as recommendations for the Texas Department of Transportation. Every agency in Texas government must undergo a periodic review, usually every 12 years, to ensure that agency standards, scope and activities conform to best practices. Sometimes this means consolidating agencies with overlapping duties, changing the requirements and makeup of boards of directors and even occasionally phasing out an agency all together.
Representative Larry Gonzales of Williamson County (center) and Senator Van Taylor of Collin County (right) led the Sunset Advisory Commission during the last review cycle. Here they speak with fellow Commission member Houston Representative Senfronia Thompson.
Wednesday, the Commission voted on a number of recommended changes to one of the largest state agencies, the Texas Department of Transportation. Sunset review of the agency found that the planning process for roads and highways lacked transparency and didn't focus enough on performance-based measures. It recommended charging the House and Senate Committees on Transportation with oversight of transportation planning and performance among other heightened transparency measures. It also recommended reforms to the agency's contracting process.
Also Wednesday, it recommended reforms to the agency charged with overseeing and regulating the practice of physicians in the state, the Texas Medical Board. One major area of reform dealt with the way that potentially abusive medications, like opioids and tranquilizers, are regulated and prescribed. The Commission recommended giving the Medical Board more authority to oversee pain management clinics, as well as requiring doctors to check a state database that tracks prescriptions of controlled drugs before prescribing such drugs.
Over the interim, the Sunset Commission reviewed agencies ranging from the State Bar of Texas to the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. The review process entails Sunset staff conducting comprehensive evaluations of agency practices and activities. The staff then prepares a report of recommendations and presents these before a 12 member Sunset Advisory Commission, made up of five members of each house as well as two appointed members. That panel approves, modifies or rejects these recommendations, and the final approved changes become what are known as Sunset bills. These bills go before the House and Senate for final approval during the legislative session and if signed by the governor, the agency continues on until its next review cycle. In all, 25 different agencies went through the process this cycle.
Sometimes this can be a contentious process. In 2013, the State Railroad Commission was up for review. This agency oversees oil and gas production in Texas, but has nothing to do with railroads. The Sunset Commission bill would have changed the name of the agency to something that better reflects its modern mission, but this change was contested by some in the Legislature, who worried that a name change could spark legal confusion. Due to this issue, among others, the Railroad Commission bill failed to pass and the agency had to undergo another review this cycle. The decision this time: let the agency continue for 12 more years, but keep the name the same.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, January 17 at 11 a.m.