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DEFINITION AND CHARACTERISTICS

What is the difference between a ‘regular’ temporary provision and a ‘sunset clause’? Are ‘experimental laws’ and ‘legislative experiments’ synonyms? This subsection answers these and other questions regarding the nature of sunset clauses and experimental legislation, provides a terminological clarification of the concepts under analysis, and lists the essential characteristics of both legislative instruments.

Sunset Clauses

‘Sunset’ can be defined as ‘a statutory method of forcing legislators to make a periodic determination whether to allow a particular program or agency to continue’.[1] ‘Sunsetting’ implies the introduction of clauses regarding certain measures contained in a Bill, or establishing that an agency[2] or a programme will be extinguished after a certain period, except if the renewal of the clause is requested.[3] Although the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission still defines ‘sunset clause’ as ‘the regular assessment of the continuing need for a state agency to exist’, this term has been used in the literature to refer to a broader range of statutory or regulatory mechanisms entailing the termination of a statute after a period of time determined beforehand.[4]

Sunset clauses or provisions can be applied to entire statutes or determined provisions, regardless of the subject they regulate.[5] A specific reason to submit a law to a time limit should underlie the decision to enact a sunset clause. Sunset clauses are usually not the legislators’ first choice, so it is important to understand why the legislator have opted in that particular case for a sunset clause. Legislative oversight could also be guaranteed by the adoption of a review or evaluation clause. In the case of sunset clauses, legislators should justify why a law should sunset. This is not, however, an essential element for the definition of sunset clauses. These legislative instruments can be normally identified by the presence of the following elements:

  • (i) temporary character: a sunset clause does not aim at continuity, rather it determines the expiration of a law after a fixed period, unless there are substantial reasons to believe that the former should be extended for a determined period;
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(ii) ex post evaluation: the effects of the sunset disposition should be assessed in order to verify whether the objective for which it was enacted has been achieved. Depending on the evaluation report, it can be decided whether to let the provision sunset or renew it for another fixed period.

As far as the duration period of sunset clauses is concerned, this has varied in the countries under analysis depending on the subjects in question. In the Netherlands, for example, the duration of sunset clauses has oscillated between one year in the case of a temporary regulation designed to address the problem of the smuggling of drugs into the airport at Schiphol,[6] and six years, in the context of a statute on the integration of minorities in the labour market.[7] In the United States, the original average duration of sunset clauses appears to have been five years.[8] However, reauthorization has often occurred, so multiple acts were only terminated several years after the original sunset date. This was particularly visible during the sunset movement in the 1970s and 1980s, where successive reauthorization of sunset clauses occurred without any previous significant evaluation.

Renewal of sunset clauses is possible but it implies an inversion of the burden of proof: the institution interested in its reauthorization must demonstrate on what grounds this should occur.[9] The Dutch Council of State has underlined that continuation of sunsets should be justified on imperative grounds to avoid laws being too easily renewed.[10] In any case, renewal should never occur before an evaluation has taken place.[11]

The requirement to conduct an evaluation does not need to be explicitly stated in the sunset clause; rather it should be understood as an inherent element of this legislative instrument. This evaluation might occur a few months before the expiration term. Periodic evaluations are also admissible and have been typically introduced in particularly dynamic settings, such as regulated sectors where it is important to assess the effects produced by the law submitted to the sunset.[12]

Having defined and identified the most important elements of sunset clauses, it is important to clarify that there is not only one type of ‘sunset clause’. Instead, this legislative instrument has several different faces, which should not be confused with apparently similar instruments that do not fall within the qualification of ‘sunset clause’.

  • [1] Mark D. Young, ‘A Test of Federal Sunset: Congressional Reauthorizationof the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’ (1978) 27 Emory Law Journal853-4.
  • [2] See the glossary on the website of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, available at www.sunset.state.tx.us/guide.htm.
  • [3] Anthony Davis, ‘Review Procedures and Public Accountability in SunsetLegislation: An Analysis and Proposal for Reform’ (1981) 33 Administrative LawReview 393.
  • [4] John E. Finn, ‘Sunset Clauses and Democratic Deliberation’ (2009) 48Columbia Journal of Transnational Journal 442.
  • [5] Easterbrook et al., ‘Showcase Panel IV’, n. 6 above, 341.
  • [6] See Wet van 6 maart 2002 tot vaststelling van de tijdelijke wet voor depenitentiaire noodcapaciteit ten behoove van drugkoeriers (tijdelijke wet peniten-tiaire capaciteit drugkoeriers), Stb. 2002, 124.
  • [7] Voorstel van de leden Vos en Stuurman betreffende het wijzigen van dewet stimulering arbeidsdeelname minderheden, Advies van de Raad van State enreactie van de indieners, Kamerstukken II, 2003-2004, 29 275, no. 4, 1-2: thisproposed amendment aimed to extend the duration period of a law on theintegration of minorities in the labour market for six years (expiration in 2010).The proponents of this extension argued that the production of the desiredpositive effects was not fully achieved at the time, and it was, therefore,necessary to ensure the continuation of the law.
  • [8] See Bickle, ‘The National Sunset Movement’, n. 15 above.
  • [9] Bertelsmann Stiftung, ‘Gutachten: Wirksamkeit von Sunset Legislation und Evaluationsklauseln’ (2005) Agenda Moderne Regulierung, available atwww.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/bst/de/media/xcms_bst_dms_16438_2.pdf.
  • [10] Voorstel van de leden Vos en Stuurman betreffende het wijzigen van dewet stimulering arbeidsdeelname minderheden, Advies van de Raad van State enreactie van de indieners, Kamerstukken II, 2003-2004, 29 275, no. 4, 1-2.
  • [11] Tijdelijke verruiming artikel 668a van Boek 7 van het Burgerlijk Wetboekom arbeidsovereenkomsten voor bepaalde tijd aan te gaan in verband met hetbevorderen van de arbeidsparticipatie van jongeren, Advies Raad van State ennader rapport, Kamerstukken II, 2008-2009, 32 058, no. 4, 3: the Dutch Councilof State underlined here that the renewal of the law after the sunset period mustdepend on the results of the research and evaluation of its effectiveness.
  • [12] As discussed in Voorstel van wijziging van de Mededingingswet terinvoering van regels inzake ondernemingen die van overheidswege over eenbijzondere positie beschikken en inzake ondernemingen die deel uitmaken vaneen publiekrechtelijke persoon of die hiermee zijn verbonden (Regels voorondernemingen met een bijzondere taak, overheidsondernemingen en overheids-bedrijven), advies van Raad van State en nader rapport, Kamerstukken II,2007-2008, 31 354, no. 4, 15.
 
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