The Sunset Shuffle
Legislature moves the massive Health and Human Services review back two years
By Richard Whittaker,
8:20PM, Sun. May 31, 2009
With only a few hours left of the 81st Legislature, lawmakers are already filling their calendars for 2011 and beyond, as the big Health and Human Services Sunset Review, scheduled for next session, will be pushed back to 2013, and other agencies move up the stack.
Blame a slow session: With a whole bunch of agencies, including some big guns like Texas Department of Insurance and the Texas Department of Public Safety, not getting their current Sunset review bill passed, they get a two-year extension under House Bill 1959 - the Sunset safety net bill.
The problem there is that the next review cycle, which starts in September for delivery to the legislature in 2011, is already massive because that's when the entirety of Health and Human Services is under the microscope. Add on that limited compliance reviews for Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, and the job becomes gargantuan.
So now the plan in the conference committee substitute for HB 1959 is to push HHS back to 2013. In turn, it brings several agencies scheduled for 2013 (including the Railroad Commission, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and the Public Utility Commission) forward, turning the 2011 cycle into a regulatory agency review. On top of that, the Texas Education Agency is moved forward from a partial review, due in 2012, to a full review in 2011.
In part, the decision is motivated by the recently-announced retirement of Commissioner Albert Hawkins. As Sunset Advisory Commission Member Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, explained, ""How do you say to a commissioner, 'This September is when we start to go into those agencies,' and the commissioner doesn't even have his feet underneath him," she said.
This, Commission Chair Carl Isett explained, will turn 2011 into a regulatory agency review cycle, and give the new HHS commissioner a little time to start rebuilding the agency in their own image. But the question is stark: For how many agencies and for how many years can the lege keep kicking the can down the road?