What Is a Sunset Provision

A sunset provision, or sunset law, is a clause in a statute, regulation, or similar piece of legislation that expires automatically. A sunset provision provides for an automatic repeal of the entire or sections of the law once a specific date is reached.

Once the sunset provision date is reached, the pieces of legislation mentioned in the clause are rendered void. If the government wishes to extend the length of time for which the law in question will be in effect, it can push back the sunset provision date any time before it is reached.

Key Takeaways

  • A sunset provision is a provision in a law stating that sections of the law, or the whole law, expire on a set date.
  • Sunset provisions are automatic and do not need to be called.
  • The U.S. Congress can override sunset provisions by voting to extend the law.

How a Sunset Provision Works

The purpose of a sunset provision is generally to allow lawmakers to institute a law when change or government action is required reasonably quickly, when the long-term ramifications of the law in question are difficult or impossible to foresee, or when circumstances warrant such a legal structure.

A good example of legislation warranting a sunset provision is the U.S.A. Patriot Act. Intended to address relatively short-term security concerns following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the act, when it was initially drafted, included a sunset provision for Dec. 31, 2005.

Often, a law with a sunset provision can get votes because lawmakers who might otherwise oppose permanent implementation of the law may be okay with a temporary implementation due to special circumstances.