It is clear not all sunrise processes are created equal. Some yield searching, evidence-based analyses of regulatory proposals, while others do not. And our data indicate some states appear to hold the line against new licenses better than others. Among states with generally high-quality reports and relatively low rates of licensure recommendations, a few commonalities stand out. These may point to promising best practices for states interested in establishing a new sunrise process or improving an existing one.

One common feature of states with strong analyses involves the review criteria employed, which may (and often does) differ from what sunrise statutes specify. During our study period, Colorado, Hawaii, Washington and Georgia had the lowest rates of licensure recommendations, ranging from 8% to 16%; they also stood out for consistently producing in-depth reviews. Reports from these states nearly always examined three key questions:

  1. Is there documented evidence of substantial and systematic harm, not just anecdotal, potential or even likely harm, from an occupation?
  2. What are the likely costs and benefits of proposed regulations, and how do they compare?
  3. If harms are identified, what is the least restrictive regulatory—or non-regulatory—option best and most narrowly tailored to address them?

In answering these questions, reviewers typically consult a variety of sources, including independent sources, not just information proffered by occupational interest groups. Such sources include consumer complaint data, cease-and-desist orders, online reviews, court filings, civil actions and scholarly research. Reviewers sometimes even conduct original research of their own, such as surveys of consumers, interviews with those in the field and analyses of other states’ regulatory approaches. And, in examining harm, they often search for patterns of substantial harm—rather than isolated incidents—to justify regulation. If they do not find such patterns, careful reviewers are comfortable recommending against new regulations. They also closely examine licensing and other regulatory alternatives to consider whether they will actually mitigate harm or instead simply add barriers without solving the problem.

A second notable feature of states with stronger sunrise reports is reviewer independence. As noted, Hawaii’s reviewer is an officer appointed to an eight-year term and removable only for cause, allowing little room for political influence. 1 Washington’s and Colorado’s reviewers are housed within umbrella regulatory agencies—largely removed from influence by particular occupations’ boards—and Colorado has taken concrete steps to insulate the group that conducts reviews from regulatory matters. 2 It also has a strong culture of impartial, evidence-based analysis and regulatory skepticism. Georgia and West Virginia both have strong reviews and a formal connection to the legislature, as the reviewers are selected by the legislature. However, the two states that rely most heavily on legislative committees—Arizona and Utah—consistently produced reports that lack detail and rigorous analysis, suggesting that shielding reviewers from the legislative branch may promote higher quality.

Finally, states with strong reports tend to have ample time and support to produce them. Colorado provides 10 and a half months and Georgia nine months, while Hawaii and Washington impose no time limits. Virginia, another state with typically thorough reviews, allows at least 11 months. These states also have well-established structures for supporting lengthy reviews. For example, in Colorado, the Office of Policy, Research and Regulatory Reform is staffed by a director and full-time, permanent analysts. 3 Hawaii’s auditor serves renewable eight-year terms. 4 Georgia’s review council has standing members and is housed in the governor’s office. And the Virginia Board of Health Pro fessions’ Regulatory Research Committee has permanent board and department staff available to help with sunrise reviews. 5

Of course, states cannot perfectly control all these factors by statute. As we found, sunrise reviews are often less and sometimes more rigorous than the law requires. However, legislators interested in enacting or reforming sunrise processes should consider them when crafting legislation. So, too, should agencies newly charged with conducting sunrise reviews. An engaged reviewer can make up for many deficiencies in a weaker sunrise law. 6