SUNSET ADVISORY COMMISSION DECISIONS
The Sunset Advisory Commission is an independent state agency that periodically reviews other state agencies to determine whether those agencies should remain in existence. The purpose of the Commission’s review is to assess the need to retain an agency, look for potential duplication of programs within the agency, and consider changes to improve the agency.
After lengthy staff reports and a hearing process, the Commission held its final meeting on January 12, 2011. The recommendations of the Commission will be filed in the form of a “sunset bill” for each agency. Several important agencies are up for review this session. Some of the most relevant final recommendations that would affect cities from some of those agencies are listed below. The recommendations of other agencies will appear in next week’s Legislative Update. Much more detailed information on all the agencies is available at www.sunset.state.tx.us.
Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT)
- Disband the Texas Transportation Commission and replace it with one commissioner of transportation, appointed by the governor, which the Commission envisions as a “cabinet-level position.” The position would be re-appointed every two years, and would not be able to serve past the end of that term without Senate approval.
- Require all outdoor advertising fees collected by TxDOT to be deposited into the general revenue fund, and not the dedicated beautification account.
The commission also discussed, but did not vote on, a proposal to require billboard companies to choose, on a case-by-case basis, how each billboard will be valued (ad valorem or condemnation), and bind the company to that valuation for both ad valorem tax and condemnation purposes. Members of the commission expressed their support for the idea, but believed that the legislature should debate an independent bill on the question.
Texas Railroad Commission (RRC)
- Disband the three-member commission and replace it with one elected commissioner.
- Require the RRC’s oil and gas program to be self-supporting, and authorize the RRC to levy surcharges on the program’s permits, licenses, certificates, or reports to achieve this purpose.
- Require the RRC to develop, in rule, an enforcement policy to guide staff in evaluating and ranking oil- and natural gas-related violations.
- Require the RRC to formally adopt penalty guidelines in rule.
- Transfer the RRC’s enforcement hearings to the State Office of Administrative Hearings.
- Authorize the RRC to enforce damage prevention requirements for interstate pipelines.
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ)
- Transfer the authority for making groundwater protection recommendations regarding oil and gas activities from TCEQ to the Railroad Commission.
- Focus the Office of Public Interest Counsel’s efforts on representing the public interest in matters before the TCEQ rather than assisting regulated entities in cases before the TCEQ.
- Direct TCEQ to revise its rules on compliance history.
- Require the TCEQ to structure its general enforcement policy in rule and publicly adopt its resulting enforcement policies.
- Increase TCEQ’s administrative penalty caps.
- Exempt “low-hazard” dams from regulation.
- Authorize TCEQ to consider supplemental environmental projects for local governments that would improve the environment.
- Clarify the TCEQ executive director’s authority to curtail water use in water shortages and times of drought.
- Require water rights holders to keep records of monthly water use information, and to submit those to TCEQ annually.
- Re-authorize the petroleum storage tank fee, but require TCEQ to reduce the fee as the cost of the program decreases.
Texas Forest Service (TFS)
- Transfer state forests to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department or the Texas Department of Agriculture.
- Authorize TFS to take all necessary actions to respond to wildfires to help best protect communities.
- Authorize TFS to involve the volunteer fire service in statewide wildfire response, and ensure that these personnel have needed qualifications.
- Require TFS to develop a Texas Wildfire Protection Plan to be reported to the legislature.
- Require TFS to include a criterion regarding wildfire risk and threat of loss to communities when awarding Volunteer Fire Department (VFD) Assistance Program grants.
- Authorize TFS to allocate a portion of its VFD Assistance Program funding to help volunteer fire departments meet cost-sharing requirements for federal grants.
- Require TFS to adopt VFD Assistance Program rules and hold public meetings when making program decisions.
Commission on State Emergency Communications (CSEC)
- Authorize CSEC to coordinate the development and implementation, and provide ongoing management of, an interconnected state-level 911 network and an interconnected state-level Internet protocol-based emergency communications network.
- Require CSEC to establish an advisory committee for the development, implementation, and management of the various aspects of the state’s next generation 911 system.
Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA)
- Change the basis for quantifying a community’s participation in a proposed tax credit development to the receipt of a written statement from the local city council or county commissioners court.
- Allow TDHCA to create additional tax credit allocation cycles to take advantage of non-standard federal assistance opportunities.
- Allow TDHCA to update the qualified allocation plan biennially instead of annually.