Don't let agency reform get derailed

Photo by Tamir Kalifa

Texas has a thorough and rigorous “sunset” process to periodically examine the purpose of agencies and provide direction on how they can be improved or, at times, determine that an agency is no longer necessary.

This year, the state’s health and human services agencies have been a primary focus of the sunset process, under the leadership of state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and state Rep. Walter “Four” Price, R-Amarillo. Many thousands of hours of great work have gone into evaluating, deliberating and recommending changes to these agencies.

Much of that work occurs between legislative sessions, when the appropriate amount of time and attention can be given to these matters.

Since this series of sunset bills was introduced in January, legislative leaders have responded to new information and changing circumstances by adjusting provisions in the legislation — but all in keeping with their central purpose.

But the closing weeks of the session have given members the opportunity to offer extraneous amendments to these bills that are unrelated to their central purpose, distracting attention from the legislation’s intent and preventing action. That puts in jeopardy a number of significant opportunities to improve the functioning of these agencies. 

In the case of the Department of Family and Protective Services, our partner in serving children and youth in the Texas foster care system, the sunset bill proposed by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, would allow the agency to better focus on its principal responsibility of child and adult protective services by putting in place a well-thought-out series of statutory changes to enable agency transformation. All of this is now at risk. 

The sunset process — and all involved — deserve better. Senate rules prohibit this practice by requiring any floor amendments to sunset bills to be discussed in the committee hearing when the sunset bill was heard. The House rules, however, don’t provide such protection.

Regardless of the intricacies of the rulebooks, our hope is that legislative leaders will find a way to uphold the central purpose of the sunset process in the closing days of the session.      

Our strong and effective sunset process allows for thoughtful and thorough consideration of each agency over a two-year period, culminating in legislation. Sunset bills for the health and human services agencies offer exceptional opportunities for improving these agencies’ performance. In the final week of the session, it’s time to complete that work without further distraction.

Knox Kimberly

Vice president of government relations at Upbring