State Watch

Dozens of states consider move to permanent daylight saving time


When his young children finally started waking up at a reasonable hour, Mike Freiberg thought he had won the battle against sleepless toddlers that every parent fights. Then, on the first Sunday in November, daylight saving time ended and Freiberg’s kids were back to waking up too early.

“You would just get them to the point where they would start waking up at 6 in the morning, and all the sudden you’d change the clocks and it would be 5 in the morning,” he said.

A few months later, Freiberg, a Democratic member of Minnesota’s House of Representatives, introduced a bill to end the twice-yearly time change. If his legislation passes, Minnesota would remain on daylight saving time — permanently.{mosads}

Minnesota is just one of about three dozen states considering an end to the switch between standard time and daylight saving time this year.

In the state of Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee (D), a long-shot 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, signed a measure to move to permanent daylight saving time that passed the state House in a 90-6 vote and the state Senate with only two dissenting votes. Utah legislators adopted a measure in March urging Congress to pass a House bill, sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), to allow states to adopt year-round daylight saving time.

The number of states taking up time-change bills has spiked in recent years, buoyed by research that shows health, crime and economic benefits to sticking with a consistent time throughout the year, according to Jim Reed, who studies energy- and environment-related legislation for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

The time-change debate also crosses party, geographic and demographic boundaries. Freiberg is a Democrat from the Minneapolis suburbs; his co-sponsor is a Republican from a rural district west of Duluth, Minnesota. 

“My colleagues that are in agricultural New York are very interested in repealing daylight saving time,” said Clyde Vanel, a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly and author of a bill to study the effects of moving permanently to daylight saving time.

Supporters of moving permanently to daylight saving time say studies show the benefits of adding more light at the end of the day. An hour of extra sunshine in the afternoon, rather than the morning, means fewer traffic and pedestrian fatalities. Delaying sunset, when energy demands are at their peak, would cut overall energy use.

“The whole philosophy is where is it more important to have sunlight? I think it’s more important to have sunlight at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. than at 7 a.m.,” said Steve Calandrillo, a law professor at the University of Washington who authored a study on the benefits of permanent daylight saving time.

And there is evidence that crime, which is disproportionately committed during evening darkness, would fall.

“Criminals prefer to work in darkness, and they like evening darkness much more than they like morning darkness,” Calandrillo said. “You basically take away an hour of the criminal’s workday.”

On the other hand, proponents of the current system say ending the time change would put more children at risk as they walk to school in the morning.

The National Parent Teacher Association “is opposed to daylight saving time during the winter months because of the safety factor in the morning,” said Heidi May Wilson, a spokeswoman for the group.

“It’s something that a lot of people have strong opinions on, which I’ve discovered,” Freiberg joked.

But states that hope to move permanently to daylight saving time cannot simply pass a new law and forget about the clocks. The measure in Washington and any others that pass this year are dependent on Congress, which must grant a waiver or change a half-century-old law.{mossecondads}

The practice of changing clocks to take advantage of sunlight began as an energy-saving measure in Germany during World War I. The United States adopted daylight saving time soon after but without implementing a national standard.

That led to a hodgepodge of seasonal time zones between states — and even cities and counties. During parts of the year, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, divided only by the Mississippi River, set their clocks an hour apart at different times of the year. Iowa’s counties were so out of sync that by the 1960s, the state had nearly two dozen combinations of dates when daylight saving time started or ended.

In 1966, Congress stepped in with the Uniform Time Act. The law required states to decide whether to adopt daylight saving time, which would be implemented and ended across the country each year on discrete days.

It provided only a handful of exemptions. Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee are divided between the Eastern and Central time zones; North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and part of Texas’s western borderlands are split between Central Time and Mountain Time; and parts of Idaho and Oregon are split between the Pacific and Mountain time zones.

States could decide to stick with standard time year-round, and two did — Arizona and Hawaii. But states are not legally allowed to choose to operate on daylight saving time.

States have experimented with permanent daylight saving time before. In 1974, former President Nixon signed legislation moving the country to daylight saving time for more than a year in an effort to combat the energy crisis gripping the nation. To mitigate concerns over safety for school children, about half the nation’s school districts pushed start times back an hour — a change that psychologists and sleep researchers now advocate for its own sake.

Washington is the only state so far to have approved the move to permanent daylight saving time. California voters approved a ballot measure in 2018 that gave the legislature the power to adopt permanent daylight saving time. In Congress, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) have introduced a federal measure to adopt permanent daylight saving time.

But so far, failure is more common than victory. Permanent daylight saving time bills are already dead for the year in Idaho, Mississippi, New Mexico, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming, and dozens more will die as legislative sessions turn to more pressing matters.

Most state legislators say they want Congress to make the call rather than a patchwork of state and local laws that would add confusion. Modern technology can help — smart watches and phones set themselves — but legislators worry about the inevitable cases of people arriving an hour late to the airport, school or work.

“There’s no doubt that more confusion would ensue if states moved their time zones around,” the NCSL’s Reed said. “In this technological age, though, our clocks can handle it and a lot of our systems can handle it, but can our minds handle it?”

Tags Jay Inslee Marco Rubio Rob Bishop Vern Buchanan
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