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Abbott: Replace Sunset Commission With Citizen Panel

Gov.-elect Greg Abbott on Thursday called for a citizen panel on government waste to replace the Sunset Commission. He said the Sunset system “seldom eliminates unnecessary agencies.”

Gov.-elect Greg Abbott gives a speech at a Texas Public Policy Foundation conference on Jan. 8, 2015.

*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout. 

Gov.-elect Greg Abbott said Thursday he wants to replace the Texas Sunset Commission with a citizen-led panel on government waste.

Speaking at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s annual Policy Orientation conference, Abbott said the Sunset system “seldom eliminates unnecessary agencies.”

“We need citizens with a seat at the table helping us to reshape the way the regulatory agencies are running the state of Texas,” he said.

"I see volunteers already," he said as several members of the audience raised their hands.

The Sunset Commission, which includes five members of the House, five senators and two members of the public, reviews the efficiency of government agencies and recommends whether each agency should continue to exist or be "sunsetted."

There are currently 20 state agencies under review, including several health and human services agencies.

This isn’t the first time Abbott has proposed reforming the commission. In his Working Texans plan released in October 2013, then-candidate Abbott included a proposal to add nine non-legislator seats — giving citizens a majority — appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House. He also proposed repealing a provision that requires the state to try to relocate employees of agencies being sunsetted.

“The state should not continue to employ someone simply because they once worked for a state agency that is now defunct,” the plan reads.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, who authored the Sunset Act as a Texas state senator in 1977, said legislators are an important part of the commission.

“Without Sunset Commission members who serve in the Legislature with an interest in securing approval of legislative action, the likelihood of adopting bold resolutions will be reduced, not increased,” he said in an email.

The Sunset Commission wasn't the only topic on Abbott's mind on Thursday. A vocal critic of the federal government, Abbott said Texas should focus now on fixing itself. He also called for cuts to “regulatory burdens” in Texas cities — rules banning plastic bag or fracking, for example — and for curbing government licensing for certain industries. 

"Licensing doctors makes sense, but why do we need a license for junk dealers or a shampoo apprentice?" Abbott said. "Those are the kinds of things you see in California, not in the state of Texas."

Abbott will be sworn in on Tuesday, Jan. 20, a week after the new legislative session begins.

Disclosure: The Texas Public Policy Foundation is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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