Administrative agencies are sometimes called the “fourth branch of government” because of their vast power. In Texas, we have a “Sunset” process under which the Legislature looks closely at each agency approximately every 12 years. While this only occasionally leads to ending the agency, it frequently results in at least some reforms, ranging from minor changes to significant overhauls.
The Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) is up for Sunset Review in the coming session, and the process begins now. The TAHC regulates livestock and poultry owners of all sizes and types, from backyard chicken owners to massive feedlots. It is the agency that develops and implements Animal ID requirements at the state level, as well as places limits on what people can feed hogs, the requirements for selling live poultry, testing of cattle and other livestock, and much more.
The Sunset process gives Texas livestock and poultry owners the chance to speak up about what sort of agency should be regulating them. Below is more information about how you can get involved.
Animal Owners – Speak Up!
The Sunset Commission is taking public comments on whether the TAHC is still needed and suggestions on how the agency can improve its operations.
The Sunset process has three stages. First, Sunset staff will evaluate TAHC, seek public input, and issue a report identifying problems and suggesting solutions. Second, the Sunset Commission will hold two public meetings during 2020. Third, the Legislature will consider the Sunset Commission’s proposal (in the form of a Sunset bill) in the 2021 legislative session.
You can provide comments to Sunset staff on TAHC’s mission, operations, and services in several ways:
- Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Submit comments online at www.sunset.texas.gov.
- Send a letter to Sunset Advisory Commission, Attn: TAHC, P.O. Box 13066, Austin, Texas 78711.
- Call (512) 463-1300 to speak to Darren McDivitt, project manager of the TAHC review.
Comments will be considered throughout the process but will have the greatest impact if you submit them by December 1, 2019. Comments submitted before the staff report is published in 2020 will remain confidential.
What should you talk about?
First and foremost, if you have any personal experience with TAHC, focus on that – and what you think is working well or needs to be changed.
FARFA has raised two major concerns about TAHC over the years:
- The exclusion of small-scale producers from the board. The TAHC is governed by a 13-member board that has seats designated for specific industry sectors, including feedlots. https://www.tahc.texas.gov/agency/commission.html Yet there are no seats for small-scale or organic producers. Moreover, while there are three “general public” seats, those positions are filled by large-scale industry representatives! In 2015, FARFA sought a bill to add small-scale producers to the TAHC board, but all the Big Ag groups opposed the bill and it died in Committee. You can read our fact sheet, which explains the problems with the current structure, at http://farmandranchfreedom.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Fact-sheet-HB809-TAHC-reform-committee-substitute.pdf
- The exclusion of small-scale producers from working groups. The TAHC frequently puts together “working groups” to develop new proposed regulations. There are no guidelines or rules for who gets to serve in these groups. Agency staff simply invites whom they want to include, which means that only the Big Ag groups get invited. This has serious consequences, as the agency’s proposed rules are developed without input from small-scale producers. While the proposed rules then go through a public comment period, the agency almost never makes changes in response to public comments. It is vital that everyone who will be impacted by the rules have a voice early in the process, not after the agency’s mind is already made up.
You can read more about TAHC on the agency’s website, https://www.tahc.texas.gov/, or by searching “Texas Animal Health” on FARFA’s website.