By Nikki Metzgar, CPPP Health Policy Intern
Under the Sunset process, the “need for, performance of, and improvements to” Texas state agencies are periodically reviewed, sometimes setting up major changes or even abolition of an agency. Back in December, Sunset Commission members Representative Four Price (R – Amarillo) and Chairman Charles Schwertner (R – Georgetown) filed HB 550 and SB 219, respectively, which clocked in at a whopping 2,300 pages. These companion bills are merely meant to clarify the current structure of Health and Human Services (HHS) so that the law is updated to reflect actual practice—without making any new policy changes. Passage of this legislation would allow later Sunset bills—the ones aimed at making changes—to build on an accurate foundation of current law. Needless to say, it has taken stakeholders some time to make their way through the material and see what is buried within.
Some Questions Left to Clarify
The Center for Public Policy Priorities reached out to diverse advocates and health care providers to share analysis of the bills. While they largely appear to do just what is intended, the sheer volume and complexity of the content means ambiguities were inevitable. Some of the proposed language requires further research and possible corrections. CPPP submitted a letter to the authors (also below) endorsing the bills’ intent and confirming that it’s important that Texas law accurately reflect current programs, terminology and practice. At the same time, we urged the Sunset authors that additional clarifying work still needs to be done to resolve stakeholder concerns. As part of that effort, the Senate Committee on HHS scheduled a stakeholder meeting on Thursday, February 5 to review issues and concerns.
A Single Giant HHS Agency is Not a Silver Bullet
CPPP also raised the concern that these bills come at time when very serious questions have been raised regarding HHSC contracting practices and oversight. HB 550 and SB 219 will set the groundwork for future legislation that will change HHS agency structures and functions under the periodic Sunset Review process of state agencies. A sweeping reorganization could potentially divert limited staff resources and derail capacity to provide critical services to vulnerable Texans. Given the questions raised by these recent events, we hope that Sunset legislation for health and human services agencies will take a slower, more cautious approach aimed at achieving high performance, coordination of services, and transparency—not just simple consolidation of authority.