The Sunset Review of a Social Work Board of Examiners: A Case Example
" Th e Journal of Sociology & Social
The S Exa miners: A Case unset Review of a Social Exa m ple
Stephen R. Block
Board; of; Follow this and additional works at; http; //scholarworks; wmich; edu/jssw
The scenario goes something like this: In 1976, just one year after the
enactment of a Colorado Social Work Practice Act and the establishment of a Social
Work Board of Examiners, the Colorado Legislature initiated the first Sunset
Review Law in the country.
The original concept of Sunset Review was conceived by the Colorado Chapter
of Common Cause. They envisioned it as a tool which would enable state government
to be more accountable through a process of joint executive and legislative
evaluations of programs created by statute. In Colorado, the passage of House Bill No.
1088 of 1976 provided for the termination of the 39 boards and commissions in
Colorado's Department of Regulatory Agencies. Starting July 1, 1977, one-third of
the boards and commissions were scheduled for termination every other year. In
addition, any newly created agency, as well as those which survived the review
cycle, would be given a terminable life of six years. After six years, the agency
would be scrutinized through the Sunset Review process. In all cases, the boards
and commissions would be abolished unless they received a mandate from the
Colorado Legislature to continue existence. Legislative consideration would be
based on both a performance audit conducted by the executive branch and by
legislative hearings where the public could respond and give testimony. According
to statute, the agency under review must demonstrate a 'public need' for its
Under the new Sunset Law, the first round of agency reviews concluded with
an array of changes. The Legislature continued nine boards. Three of the nine
were re-established with modifications--the Collection Agency Board, the Racing
Commission, and the Passenger Tramway Safety Board (which regulates ski lifts).
In addition, two other boards--the Cosmetologists Board and the Board of Barber
Examiners--were consolidated. Also, three boards were abolished--the Board of
Shorthand Reporters, the State Athletic Commission, and the Board of Professional
During this same review period, the Colorado Legislature was unable to
complete a thorough review of six sizeable agencies. The Legislature postponed
review of the Public Utilities Commission, the Division of Insurance, the Board
of Life Care Institutions, the Board of Nursing Home Administrators, the
Electrical Board, and the Board of Mortuary Science. In the following
legisloavteirvseighstessbiooanrdalflor stihxeboDairvdissiwoenreofcoInntsiunruaendce.a2nd the Legislature created a new
Colorado's initial experience appeared to have accomplished the sunset aim
of streamlining government. In turn, the popularity of sunset grew like topsy.
Twenty-three additional states adopted Sunset Laws by 1977, and every state
legislature has since given consideration to a mandatory agency evaluation
Sunset Review appears to have an impressive track record. From 1976-1981,
approximately 1500 agencies were reviewed in all the sunset states: nearly 300
agencies have been terminated; approximately 500 were modified; and the balance,
re-established with very little or no change (Common Cause, 1982).
Despite its successful record, Sunset Review is not without its problems.
In fact, many states report difficulty with the review system including problems
of cost, limited public participation, limited program evaluation experience, and
the enormous amount of staff time that is required to complete an audit (Common
Cause, 1982). The costs of the reviews have been reported to run between $8,000
to $12,000 each, and the average 1982 state sunset budget was over $200,000
(Roederer and Palmer, 1981; Common Cause, 1982)
. In addition, eighty percent
of the sunset states have not been able to report any savings as a result of
the review process (Common Cause, 1982). Another major problem is the
unwillingness of legislators to abolish boards in response to professional association
lobbying pressure (Mitzman, 1979).
Disenchantment with Sunset Review has grown significantly. Seven of the
sunset states have introduced bills calling for the repeal of their statute.
One state--North Carolina--repealed its Sunset Law in 1981, and replaced it with
an evaluation mechanism without the automatic termination authority found in
Sunset. Ironically, even the pioneer state--Colorado--considered proposed
legislation in 1981 to terminate the nation's first Sunset Law. Although this
bill failed in the Senate by a two-to-one margin, its existence marked the level
of frustration that legislators have experienced with sunset activity.
Since its beginning in 1976, legislators have gradually decreased their
support of Sunset Review as a reaction to the criticism they have emcountered.
For example, the Colorado Deputy State Auditor publicly reported disillusionment
over the Legislature's minimal efforts in the review process
(Pierce and Hagstrom,
. Criticism was also assailed at the Texas Legislature where legislator
voting patterns on sunset audits were clearly a reflection of the amount of
campaign contributions they received during the election races (Common Cause,
1982). In North Carolina, the Legislature was accused of buckling under
the pressure of lobbyists and interest groups leading to the repeal of the
North Carolina Sunset Law (Common Cause, 1982). 4
Back in Colorado, legislators came to their own defense. Some spoke of
repealing the Sunset Law, while others thought it should be modified so that the
review cycle was every ten years. Furthermore, some legislators held a more
extreme view which consisted of killing some regulatory boards in order to
demonstrate to the public that they were indeed serious about curbing government.
The crusade to kill off regulatory agebcies came at an inopportune time for the
Colorado Social Work Board of Examiners. They were scheduled for the next review!
PREPARATION FOR SUNSET REVIEW
The potential for a problematic review of the Colorado Social Work Board of
Examiners was recognized earlier on. Reports from the Kansas Chapter of the
National Association of Social Workers on the Sunset Review of the Kansas Board
of Social Work Examiners indicated legislator interest in the number of complaints
adjudicated by the Board. There was also strong interest in the idea of merging
the Psychology Board with the Social Work Board. 5 In Colorado, consumer complaints
against social workers numbered only fifteen in a six year period. Seven of those
cases, however, were against unlicensed social workers for which the Board did not
have any jurisdiction. Of the remaining eight cases, four were closed based on
findings of no violations; two cases were still under investigation; and, two
cases were referred to a Board hearing. By the beginning of the review period,
one of the two cases was still pending a decision. The other case resulted in a
licensee suspension. Thus, the argument that a Social Work Board of Examiners
was needed to protect the consumer was, like in Kansas, a weak position. In
addition, there was a desire among Colorado social workers to reject the amalgamated
board concept like the one that was developing in Kansas. In fact, the Kansas
experience prompted Colorado social workers to communicate their position on
the umbrella board issue in a letter to the Executive Director of the Colorado
Department of Regulatory Agencies,6
In response to the potentially problematic review, a Surviving Sunset Review
Committee was appointed by the Colorado Chapter, National Association of Social
Workers' President. Ten Chapter members were selected to serve on the Committee
based on their substantial social work experience as well as their ability to
represent social workers from a variety of practice settings. The Committee was
staffed by the Chapter Executive Director and assisted by a graduate social work
intern. Committee activities were financed by Chapter funds and contributions
from several sources including individual social workers, the Colorado Society
faoNraCtiloinnaicl aAlsSsoocciiaatlioWnorko,f SthoeciCalolWoroadrkoersS' chPoroolgrSaomciAaldvWanocrkemAenstsoFcuinadtio(PnA,F)andGrfarnot.m7
By September 1979, the Chapter Committee was meeting on a monthly basis.
Initial meetings weredevoted to formulating a direction for the year. These early
planning sessions also provided the Committee with an important opportunity to
educate each Committee member on the fine points of the Colorado Social Work
Practice Act in addition to reviewing the arguments for and against occupational
(Hardcastle, 1977; Johnson, 1977; Shimberg, 1976; NASW, 1976)
Other concerns that were examined included several issues that were raised by
the State Auditor's Office and the Department of Regulatory Agencies. Among
these concerns were the limited number of consumer complaints; the five year
eligibility requirement for the LSW II type of license;and, the inability to
enforce the reciprocation clause with other states.9 Another concern that was
raised by the auditing groups was the limitation the Act had on regulating the
practice of social work. Both auditing agencies thought that the Act only served
to protect the title of "Licensed Social Worker."
LEGISLATIVE EVENTS AND THE LOBBYING EFFORT
The Chapter Committee secured a Senate sponsor and a House sponsor to
introduce a bill calling for the continuation of the Social Work Practice Act of 1975.
The new bill contained some housecleaning measures to help clarify the boundaries
between the Registered Social Worker and the Licensed Social Worker I. While
the Committee recognized the benefit that the Sunset Review could have on
cleaning up some difficult sections in the law, they felt the best strategy would be
to suggest few changes and be obliging when amendments were introduced in the
(Block et al, 1983)
On January 8, 1981, the second day of the new General Assembly year, the
bill to continue the Social Work Practice Act came before the Senate Health
Committee for its first legislative hearing. As in both their reports to the
Legislature, the State Auditor and the Executive Director of the Department of
Regulatory Agencies testified against the continuation of the Act. In addition,
the President of the Colorado Division of the American Association for Marriage
and Family Therapy spoke against the merits of the Act. He asked the Senators
to abolish the Social Work Board of Examiners and create in its place a
Behavioral Science Board which would include the counseling groups that were
not licensed, such as the guidance counselors, pastoral counselors, vocational
rehabilitation counselors, and the (non-M.S.W.) marriage counselors.
Although opposition arguments were strong, the biggest blow came from
the Colorado Social Work Board of Examiners--the group that the Chapter Committee
was attempting to'sustain. Testimony from members of the Board did not convey
much knowledge of the Act, nor did they display any zeal in support of it.
In fact, the Board members that were present in addition to the Board
Administrator were not able to respond with exactness to legislator inquiries
concerning the number and status of cases that were investigated and reviewed.
Consequently, Chapter Committee members whose testimony followed the Board's
presentation simply could not capture the interest of the Senators. A vote at
this juncture would have meant certain defeat for the bill. Fortunately, the
bill's chief sponsor was also the Chairman of the Senate Committee. As Chairman,
he exercised his authority to postpone a vote on the bill.
In an attempt to turn around the sentiment against the social work bill
that prevailed during the January 8th hearing, the Chapter Committee diligently
lobbied Senators who served on the Health Committee. In addition, over two
hundred letters were generated by activating the Chapter Education Legislative
Action Network's (ELAN Committee) telephone contact system. In February, the
Chapter Committee returned to the Senate Health Committee's chamber to discover
that the lobbying efforts paid off. That morning, the bill passed out of the
Senate Committee, although in an amended form. The amended bill reduced the
life of the bill from its six year cycle to onle one year. According to the
author of the amendment, the social work profession should return in one year
with a new bill which includes a provision for the regulatory control of the
behavioral science practitioners not currently covered by statute. Also, a
second amendment was adopted which would prohibit the Colorado Department of
Personnel from including licensed social workers in the sample population used
for the State's wage and salary survey. Apparently, the amendment's maker feared
that a licensed social worker's salary would be high, thus pushing the cost of
State salaries upward.
The next day, the full Senate approved the amended bill and sent it to the
Colorado State House of Representatives for their consideration of the bill.
With the assistance of the bill's House sponsor, it was appointed to the House
Health Committee which gave the psychologists an unfriendly reception during
an earlier Sunset Review.
The Chapter Committee spent a considerable amount of time preparing for the
House Committee hearing. The result was an improved range of testimony.
Furthermore, a handout was created for this occassion which identified that social
workers saw more clients than both the combined caseloads of psychologists and
(Thompson et al, 1980; Grosser and Block, 1983)
. The handout also
reported that there are as many social workers that are engaged in private
practice as there are psychiatrists. Moreover, the Chapter Committee questioned
the logic of terminating the Social Work Board of Examiners while leaving the
Psychology Board and the Medical Examiners Board intact. The House Committee
agreed and they passed the bill on to the Rules Committee with an amendment
to restore the bill back to an extended life of six years.
Next, the bill was sent to the House Rules Committee which has the
responsibility for determining when a bill will be brought before the entire
Assembly for a vote. It was here that the Chapter Committee was stonewalled by
the Rules Committee Chairman who proclaimed that he was going to "kill" the
bill by not placing it on the House Calendar.
In response to this new crisis, the Chapter Committee spent the next
three days working earnestly to change the Chairman's staunch position. As
before, the Committee was aided by the Chapter ELAN Committee. They were able
to generate sixty mailgrams from constituents of the Rules Chairman. Meanwhile,
the bill's two House sponsors pleaded its cause, and sympathetic lobbyists
from outside the human service field agreed to help at the request of the
Chapter's Lobbyist, President, and Executive Director. Within hours of the
deadline, at which time the bill would face its automatic
Chairman decided to schedule the bill on the House Calendard.e1a0th, the Rules
The bill would now be examined-by the full House. However, the bill's
House sponsor used her charm and reputation to help move the bill successfully
through the House without any debate. The House also agreed to assign the bill
to a Conference Committee since House and Senate versions differed. The
Conference Committee consisted of the bill's two major sponsors in addition to
two Senators and two Representatives. At the time of the Conference Committee
meeting, the Senate sponsor was absent (due to a death in his family). In his
absence, the House sponsor chaired the meeting and verbalized a strong
probill position. The Chapter Executive Director was the only witness that was
called to testify. Afterwards, the Conference Committee reached a consensus
of opinion. They agreed to restore the bill to its original six year version,
and to strike the amendment concerning the wage and salary survey sample.
After Conference Committee, the bill was returned to the House for its
final consideration. After its passage, the bill was sent to the Senate.
However, the Senate sponsor (from Colorado Springs) was still absent. In need of a
Senate advocate, several Colorado Springs social workers along with the Chapter
Lobbyist convinced another Colorado Springs Senator--who early in the process was
against the bill--to agree to speak in support of the bill. As it turned out,
the original Senate sponsor arrived back to the Senate Chambers just in time to
present the bill to a weary Assembly. The bill passed unanimously.
1. State of ColoracbHouse Bill 1088 of 1976 requires a performance audit to take
into consideration: the extent in which the Board has permitted qualified
applicants to serve the public; affirmative action requirements complied with;
operated in the public interest; agency recommendations to serve the public
better versus the profession; impact of the rules and regulations; public
participation in the rules making; the efficiency by which complaints have
2. In 1979, thirteen agencies were reviewed in Colorado, ten were continued
and three were terminated. In the 1980-81 legislative session, thirteen
agencies were reviewed, four were modified, four were continued for one
year, two were consolidated, and three were terminated.
the backbone to do what needs to be done with agenceis up for review." One
week earlier, Senator Durham said he wanted to do away with the Sunset Law
because the Legislature lacked courage to take a stand against lobbyist
Block, Stephen R., Joan Sotiros, Marvin Kapushin, Youlon Savage and Kathy McVicker
1983 Surviving A Sunset Review: The Colorado Experience. Silver Spring: NASW.
1982 The Status of Sunset In the States: A Common Cause Report. Washington,
D.C.: Common Cause.
3. The 36 sunset states and the year they adopted Sunset Legislation are as follows : In 1976 , Colorado, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana; in 1977 , Alaska, Arkansas, Conneticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington; in 1978 , Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, South Carolina; in 1979 , Illinois, Mississippi, Nevada, West Virginia, Wyoming; in 1980 , Delaware; in 1981 , Pennsylvania.
4. For examole, on Saturday February 7 , 1981 , two legislators held a press conference during which time Senator Hefley stated, "the Legislature lacks
5. Information regarding the Kansas sunset audit came from materials received from the Kansas Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers . Additional information was shared in conversation with the Kansas Chapter, NASW Executive Director, Carl Myers . See, The Kansas Sunset Audit, Kansas Division of Post Audit, released November , 1978 .
6. A letter was sent to Gail Klapper, Executive Director of the Department of Regulatory Agencies, from the Chapter Sunset Review Committee , on July 30 , 1980 .
7. The Program Advancement Fund Grant was awarded for two reasons: One, to help the Chapter in its efforts to maintain legal regulation of the profession. The second reason was to establish a set of guidelines that would be useful for other State Chapters that would become involved in Sunset Reviews .
8. There are three levels of Social Work Regulation in Colorado. Eligibilty requirements for the Registered Social worker include an M.S.W or B .S.W. plus two years of supervised experience, and a fee. The Licensed Social Worker I, requires two years of supervised experience, plus an M.S .W., an exam, and a fee. The Licensed Social Worker II requires five years of supervised experience, plus an M.S .W., an exam, and a fee. The Social Work Practice Act of 1975 also contains a provision for privileged communication, public employee and not-for-profit employee exemption, continuing education of 14 clock hours for renewal, and a clause on reciprocity. However, reciprocity has not been honored to date since applicants come from states with different eligibility requirements .
9. The official position of the State Auditor's Office was revealed in the Sunset Audit of thr Board of Social Work Examiners, released July , 1980 . Information was also gleaned through conversation with Dan Hall, Program Evaluator , Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, on January 25 , 1980 .
10. Although the Rules Chairman decision to place the bill on the House Calendar may be attributed to the aggregate efforts of the Chapter Committee, the sponsors, the lobbyists, and the CHapter membership, the Chairman stated his reason for placing the bill on the Calendar was in oder to not interrupt the Sunset Review process .
Grosser , Rene and Stephen R. Block 1983 "Clinical Social Work in the Private Sector: A Survey." Clinical Social Work Journal , in press for Fall, 1983 .
Hardcastle , David A. 1977 "Public Regulation of Social Work." Social Work 22 : 14 - 20 .
Johnson , Myles 1977 "Missing the Point of Licensure." Social Work 22 : 87 & 140 .
Mitzman , Barry 1979 " Sunset Laws: Why They Aren't Working . " Washington Monthly 11 : 48 - 51 .
National Association of Social Workers (NASW) 1976 Standards for the Regulation of Social Work Practice: Policy Statement No. 5 . Washington, D.C.: NASW.
Pierce , Neal R., and Jerry Hagstrom 1977 " Is it Time for the Sun to Set on Some State Sunset Proposals?" National Journal 9 : 937 - 939 .
Roederer , Doug and Patsy Palmer 1981 Sunset Expectation and Experience . Lexington, Kentucky: The Council of State Governments.
Shimberg , Benjamin 1976 "The Sunset Approach: The Key to Regulatory Reform?" State Government 49 : 140 - 147 .
Thompson , Carol Barbeito, Rene Grosser and Carolie J. Coates 1980 Colorado Private Sector Mental Health Survey 1980 : Providers, Service and Client Characteristics . Denver, Colorado: Mental Health Association of Colorado.