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For Those In The Glow: FAQs About Sunset

by Jerry Wells, Manager of Public Information, Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind)

With all the activity of wrapping up the school year, preparing for summer, and tracking federal and state activities, it's been hard to carve out enough time for other big events coming up. Did you know that the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) and other health and human service agencies are going through the Sunset process in the next legislative session? Did you know that as parents and professionals of children with disabilities you can play an important role in the process? If you are left wondering by these questions, read on.

What is Sunset?

Sunset is a periodic review of state agencies, boards, and commissions that was initiated back in 1974 and enacted into law in 1977. Sunset's primary purpose is to determine if state agencies still have a purpose unique enough to deserve to stay in business. If it is determined at the conclusion of the Sunset process that an agency no longer meets the needs of Texans, the sun "sets" on it and it will cease to exist - hence the name "Sunset."

When is an agency scheduled for Sunset Review?

Most agencies are scheduled for review every twelve years. In 1999, twenty-five agencies are undergoing review. Among these are all the health and human service agencies:

Who controls the process?

The Sunset review process is under direction of the Sunset Advisory Commission. This commission is made up of elected officials and two public members. A listing of the members, their addresses, and the portions of the state they represent can be received by contacting the Sunset Commission  at 1 (512) 463-1296. The TTY number is (800) 735-2989.

You may also receive this information from any TCB office or through the TCB Public Information Office in braille, large print and regular print.

What is the Sunset review process?

In formulating their recommendations, the Sunset staff gathers information from a broad range of sources. Each agency submits a Self-Evaluation Report (SER). The agency's SER identifies problems, opportunities and issues that the agency feels should be considered in the Sunset review. The Sunset staff then receives an overview of the agency's activities and programs from agency staff. After the overview, the Sunset Advisory Commission will send out letters to interested groups and individuals asking for comments. Visits will be made to selected agency offices, service providers, contractors, consumer groups, and others around the state who are interested in the agency. Once the evaluation phase of the review is completed, the Sunset staff publishes a report containing staff recommendations. The staff report is presented to the Sunset Advisory Commission at one of its public hearings. This allows for public input into the Sunset review process and begins the Sunset Commission's consideration of the potential changes to recommend to the Legislature in the form of Sunset legislation.

Where can I get more information about the Sunset Process?

You can contact the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission by telephone at 1(800) 735-2989 or access information from their Internet site at <www.sunset.state.tx.us>. You can call TCB's toll-free line 1(800) 252-5204 or send an email to TCB's Public Information Office at pio@dars.state.tx.us.

How do I find out what the most important issues are for a specific agency?

Most agencies have materials available. For example, TCB has put together a "TCB Issues" document that is available in the Commission's local offices, or you can request a copy via TCB's toll-free number or email listed in the previous paragraph. You may also contact organizations such as the Alliance of and for Visually Impaired Texans (AVIT) and Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped Association of Texas (DBMAT). AVIT may be reached by phone at 1(800) 394-0666 and DBMAT may be reached at (972) 287-1904.

How can I get involved?

You can contact a member of the Sunset Commission, especially one that represents your area of the state. You can review Sunset documents. They are made available to the public on a regular basis to keep the public informed on the progress of the review. The Sunset staff seeks input during the review at which time interested persons and organizations may voice their concerns about an agency. The Sunset Commission holds public hearings on each agency under review. These hearings offer the public an opportunity to testify on the agency and related recommendations. Generally, if an agency is to be continued, a bill must be passed by the Legislature. The public can participate in the same way as with any other piece of legislation.

Many of the issues being considered during the Sunset review may have a direct effect on services to children with disabilities. If you have concerns about the sun setting on a program or activities from which your child has benefitted, stay in Sunset's glow by being an informed parent!

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from Summer 1998 issue