California, like many other states, occasionally establishes pilot projects via legislation. For comparison, pilot projects are rarely used by Congress but are more regularly used by state legislatures.

So what is a pilot project? It is, essentially, a temporary program established by statute which is often combined with a study and a sunset date. The idea is to give a new or experimental policy or program a try before fully committing to it. As part of this effort, there’s usually some sort of effort to collect data, determine whether the temporarily adopted program is meeting expectations.

In some instances, these pilot programs actually include a formal study, perhaps even with an independent third party conducting the data collection evaluation and even the reporting. There may be oversight to ensure that the program is being used or implemented as intended, and as a result, these pilot projects or our short term statutory programs, and they could be used to evaluate an entirely new or innovative program or operation that the state proposes. And usually at the conclusion of these pilot programs, there’s a report that’s generally required to be presented to the legislature in order for our elected legislators to determine whether the pilot project met expectations.

What might this evaluation look like as part of the pilot program? Its best when the pilot project is established with a stated goal or goals that it’s intended to achieve or reach, and the reasons for the project, perhaps even why this particular approach or project was chosen to proceed. And certainly, the costs associated with administering and complying with the program are also reviewed.

Now let’s turn to sunset dates, which are sometimes also called sunset clauses, sunset provisions, or even sunset laws. They are essentially, a provision that puts an end date on a particular provision of the law. Unless the Legislature enacts a law extending the program, a program with a sunset clause will expire after the amount of time in the provision. In California, these clauses tend to run two to five years, and sometimes for a decade.

You can find the transcript of today’s audio here.