A year after Congress passed the Freedom of Information Act and at the time in 1967 when the state Legislature approved the Texas Open Meetings Act, there was a hit Broadway musical with stirring opening and closing songs that could have been the theme for both.
Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In sang about the dawning of a new age, and with the passage of those two new pieces of legislation -- as well as others like them -- it was indeed the start of a new era in open government.
Such enactments appropriately came to be known as "sunshine laws," and this week, a time when media organizations and public interest groups actively promote a dialogue about open government issues, is known as "Sunshine Week."
Regrettably, no matter how many laws are passed, many public officials still try to avoid the transparency required of them. That's why it is important that people know their rights and continue to demand that their elected and appointed leaders follow the law.
In recent years many state legislatures have tried to come up with more exceptions to these laws, and some have been successful.
Over the past couple of years this Editorial Board has called for more transparency from the Fort Worth school board and the Tarrant County College District board of trustees, and we've seen some improvements on both fronts.
Some members of the school board, which is in the process of choosing a new board member for District 8, had wanted to keep the names of applicants and the screening process private. This month the board rightly decided to have two meetings in April in which members will publicly review the applications and interview candidates for the position.
There also has been improvement with the speed that the city of Fort Worth provides information to the news media, although reporters still find that retrieving reports and data from the Police Department can be cumbersome and time-consuming.
On the state level, this past week Rep. Lon Burnam shed light on another issue that needs addressing in the interest of the people's right to know. He revealed that, like Gov. Rick Perry, he could begin drawing his government pension while still earning pay as a legislator.
The Employee Retirement System does not reveal which state elected officials are able to "double-dip." The fact that the governor is drawing a $90,000-a-year pension in addition to his $150,000 salary was discovered only when he filed disclosure papers while running for president.
Burnam wants to introduce legislation in the next session that would require the retirement system to release information on elected officials drawing a state salary and a pension.
In the Public Interest, a resource center on privatization and responsible contracting, is calling attention this Sunshine Week to what it says is a major flaw in many open-records laws.
In a report to be released Wednesday, the center says the laws need to be strengthened to close loopholes that allow private contractors to withhold public information.
At a time when local, state and federal government agencies are spending billions of dollars on private contracts, it is reasonable that lawmakers around the country examine how much information in those agreements is accessible to the public.
The fight for openness in government will never end as long as there are public figures and public institutions that deem it in their best interest not to be transparent.
That's why it is up to all of us to keep them accountable by insisting that they "let the sunshine in."