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With bipartisan support in Congress for permanent daylight saving time, could this weekend’s time change be the last?

UPDATED: Sat., March 13, 2021

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

WASHINGTON – Congress may be more divided than ever, but there’s one thing on which Republicans and Democrats can agree: No one likes losing an hour of sleep when the nation “springs forward” at the start of daylight saving time every March.

Momentum has been building across the country in recent years to do away with the twice-yearly switch between daylight saving and standard time. Starting in 2018, when Florida’s legislature became the first to pass a law to adopt year-round daylight saving time, 14 other states have followed suit.

“Daylight saving time has never saved us from anything,” fictional New Hampshire Rep. Jonah Ryan said on HBO’s “Veep” in 2017, a likely catalyst for the veritable tidal wave of anti-time change legislation that swept the country soon thereafter.

State lawmakers in Washington passed legislation to “ditch the switch” in 2019, and Idaho’s legislature a year later adopted a bill that would allow North Idaho to follow Washington’s lead.

There’s just one problem: While states can opt out of daylight saving time – as Hawaii and most of Arizona have done – federal law requires an act of Congress to allow states to adopt daylight saving time on a permanent basis.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have introduced bipartisan bills to let states like Washington, along with North Idaho, permanently switch to daylight saving time. Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, whose state’s legislature also has voted to ditch standard time, was among eight senators who reintroduced the “Sunshine Protection Act of 2021” on Tuesday.

“Springing forward and falling back year after year only creates unnecessary confusion while harming Americans’ health and our economy,” Wyden said in a statement. “Making Daylight Saving permanent would give folks an hour back of sunshine during the winter months when we need it most.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., co-sponsored the bill in the previous Congress and plans to do so again, her office said.

“Moving to permanent daylight saving time here in Washington state isn’t just a smart move for public health, safety, and our economy – it’s the overwhelming will of the people,” Murray said in a statement. “The state has taken action, and I am determined to make this policy a reality for us at the federal level.

Democratic Rep. Adam Smith said the consensus in his district, which stretches from Tacoma to Bellevue, is that the bad effects of the twice-yearly switch outweigh the good.

“After many conversations with my constituents and community leaders, we all agree – daylight savings time should be permanent,” Smith said in a statement. “After a 100-year experiment with shifting our clocks back and forth, the practice has only succeeded in increasing energy usage, creating a confusing map of varying time zones, and disrupting sleep schedules.”

Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican who represents Central Washington, cosponsored another bill with the same goal on Monday.

Benjamin Franklin suggested the idea of daylight saving time – as a joke – in a 1784 essay, but the United States didn’t adopt the system until 1918, as a World War I-era effort to conserve fuel and electricity by extending daylight hours.

The government abolished daylight saving time at the federal level after the war, but some states kept using it. The resulting confusion led Congress to pass the Uniform Time Act in 1966, which reimposed the springtime switch to daylight saving time across the country but gave states the ability to opt out.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, which enforces time zones and daylight saving time, maintains daylight saving time saves energy and reduces crime and traffic accidents. Proponents of never again “falling back” to standard time tend to agree, and wonder why the nation doesn’t just stick with daylight time all the time.

“It’s just annoying, and not only is it annoying, it wreaks havoc on people’s health,” said state Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, who sponsored Washington’s bipartisan bill to abolish daylight saving time.

Research has shown “springing forward” causes lost sleep and increases the risk of stroke and heart attack.

A 2020 study found the switch increases the risk of fatal traffic accidents by 6% for a week each March, estimating about 28 fatal crashes could be prevented each year if the U.S. did away with the annual change.

University of Washington law professor Steve Calandrillo has argued adopting permanent daylight saving time would reduce crime, pointing to data showing crime rates rise during darkness at the end of the day. More early morning darkness – the effect of daylight saving time – does not bring the same spike in crime.

Congress doesn’t have time to act before daylight saving time goes into effect on Sunday, but Riccelli is hopeful lawmakers will get it done before Nov. 7, when most of the country is set to revert to standard time.

He said he has spoken with aides to Sen. Maria Cantwell, the Washington Democrat who chairs the Senate committee with jurisdiction over the Department of Transportation, about holding a hearing to build momentum for the cause.

Riccelli conceded adopting year-round daylight saving time is no one’s top priority in the middle of a pandemic, but he said the issue gives lawmakers an opportunity to escape partisan gridlock and show voters Congress can get something done.

“In the midst of COVID – from housing to health care, economic recovery, etc. – it certainly isn’t that top-tier issue, but it’s an issue whose time has come,” Riccelli said.

“It’s fascinating how much it annoys people and how much consensus there is. People want to see Congress act right now. COVID has been a dark time, and Congress can be looked at as a broken clock, and this is one thing I think they can get right.”

If Congress fails to act, Riccelli hopes Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will act to move the entire Pacific time zone to permanent daylight saving time, something he said he has been told is within the transportation chief’s authority.

“The secretary of transportation, with the stroke of a pen, could change our whole time zone,” he said. “I think Mayor Pete is a common-sense person, and if we have to, we could make the appeal directly to the secretary of transportation.”

A Department of Transportation spokeswoman said in an email such a change would require an act of Congress and is outside the secretary’s authority.

Buttigieg appeared Thursday on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and the late-night host was flabbergasted to learn Buttigieg might have a say on the matter.

“We gotta get rid of this daylight saving time!” Kimmel pleaded. “My son, he woke up at 6 o’clock this morning. We must do away with this curse.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Buttigieg replied with a laugh.

Riccelli and other advocates of ditching the switch hope Congress will take the issue more seriously.

“With the overwhelming bipartisan support,” Riccelli said, “I don’t see why Congress wouldn’t want to take this opportunity to show that on something simple, something common sense, we can get something done and hopefully never ‘fall back’ again.”

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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