During the 2014–2015 biennium, the Sunset Advisory Commission made significant recommendations regarding the state’s five largest health and human services (HHS) agencies. Some of these recommendations were included in bills that were considered by the 84th Texas Legislature. The summary below details how the Sunset Commission’s recommendations were addressed during the legislative session.
The Sunset Commission is required to periodically review each state agency to determine whether the agency’s functions are necessary. If the agency’s functions are necessary, the Sunset Commission determines how the agency (or the agency’s functions) can be managed more efficiently. The Sunset Commission develops recommendations that are submitted to the Legislature.
The 2014–2015 review conducted by the Sunset Commission involved the five largest HHS agencies in Texas:
- Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS)
- Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS)
- Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS)
- Department of State Health Services (DSHS)
- Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC)
In February 2015, the Sunset Commission submitted a report to the Legislature that summarized its recommendations.
The Sunset Commission’s most significant recommendation was to consolidate the five HHS agencies into one commission under HHSC. Instead consolidating all five agencies at the same time, the Sunset Commission recommended the consolidation of the following agencies or parts of agencies by September 1, 2016:
- parts of DFPS (excluding Adult and Child Protective Services),
- DSHS (excluding public health and data collection), and
The Sunset Commission recommended to combine the remaining functions of DFPS and DSHS with HHSC by September 1, 2019.
Legislatively, Senate Bill (SB) 200 transferred the following programs and functions to HHSC by September 1, 2016:
- client services other than vocational rehabilitation (VR) related programs at DARS,
- client services at DADS and DSHS, and
- administrative services that support those respective clients of the HHS system.
DADS: SSLC Restructure
The Sunset Commission’s report to the Legislature noted the 13 State Supported Living Centers’ (SSLCs) declining enrollment, increasing costs, and questionable quality. The DADS Sunset bill (SB 204) contained the most significant Sunset Commission SSLC recommendations. However, the bill failed to pass.
The DADS Sunset bill would have required the Austin SSLC to close in 2017 and would have required the creation of an SSLC Restructuring Commission to determine the future of SSLCs in Texas. The bill passed the Senate, but the House voted to remove these provisions from the bill.
DARS: Transfer to HHSC and TWC
The Sunset Commission recommended DARS responsibilities be reorganized to eliminate the duplication of services and other inefficiencies. The DARS Sunset bill (SB 205) and the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Sunset bill (SB 208) provided the basis for a two-year transition plan of the reorganization of DARS responsibilities.
The DARS Sunset bill also transferred the following functions to HHSC by September 1, 2016:
- the Blind Children’s Vocational Discovery and Development Program
- Disability Determination Services
- the Independent Living (IL) Program for individuals who are blind or have visual impairments
- the IL Program for individuals with significant disabilities
The TWC Sunset bill transferred the following programs from DARS to TWC, by September 1, 2016:
- VR Program for individuals who are visually impaired as well as individuals with other disabilities
- Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center
- Business Enterprises of Texas
- IL Services to Older Individuals who are Blind
- Rehabilitation Council of Texas
Note: the IL-General and the IL-Blind Programs transferred to HHSC and the program known as the “Older Blind Program” transferred to TWC.
Within a year following the transfer of functions from DARS to TWC, TWC must meet the deadlines listed below:
- October 1, 2017: combine the separate VR programs for individuals with visual impairments and individuals with other disabilities
August 31, 2018: integrate DARS VR staff into TWC’s local workforce development boards and centers
A Transition Legislative Oversight Committee was appointed to help direct the HHS transformation. The HHSC executive commissioner submitted a transition plan to the committee in March 2016. The plan is subject to future changes based on feedback received from the committee, external stakeholders, members of the public, and agency employees.