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Most Americans want to end twice-yearly clock changes, but Congress can’t decide what to do with daylight saving time

Nov. 3, 2022 Updated Thu., Nov. 3, 2022 at 9:08 a.m.

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

WASHINGTON – The Senate is not known for moving quickly and taking bipartisan action on controversial issues, but that’s exactly what senators did in March when they passed a bill to make daylight saving time permanent.

Perhaps driven by grumpiness after losing an hour of sleep when most of the nation “sprang forward” days earlier, the lawmakers made the unusual move of passing the legislation by unanimous consent, not even bothering to record individual votes. But in an odd role reversal, the House – where legislation typically moves faster – is pumping the brakes on the bill championed by Sen. Patty Murray.

“Changing our clocks twice a year and throwing families across Washington state into the dark is an absolutely antiquated and ridiculous tradition,” the Washington Democrat said in a statement, “which is why I’m urging my colleagues in the House to act swiftly on my bipartisan Sunshine Protection Act and get it to President Biden’s desk.”

Murray’s bill, which she introduced with GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, would need to make it through the House Energy and Commerce Committee before getting a vote on the House floor.

Tiffany Smiley, the GOP challenger to Murray this fall, is open to reviewing daylight saving time, but she wants to take input from parents, farmers and other stakeholders.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, the top Republican on the panel, has taken a more cautious approach to the issue along with her Democratic counterpart, Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey.

A spokesman for McMorris Rodgers, Kyle VonEnde, said in a statement the committee, whose vast jurisdiction includes time itself, “is continuing to review and solicit feedback from Americans and stakeholders about making daylight saving time permanent,” adding that the Spokane Republican “hopes that bipartisan work will continue.”

Most Americans don’t like changing their clocks, whether it means losing an hour of sleep in springtime or losing an hour of evening daylight in autumn. An Economist-YouGov poll conducted days before most of the nation “fell back” in November 2021 found 63% of U.S. adults wanted to stop the switch while just 16% favored keeping the practice, which began in the United States a century ago. The remaining 21% were unsure how they felt.

Many physicians and economists also say the twice-yearly time switch causes a wide range of bad outcomes, from an increase in heart attacks to more crime and car crashes.

But the experts – and members of Congress – disagree on which time to preserve: standard time, with more light in the morning, or daylight saving time, which shifts that light to the evening.

“The problem is we can’t get a consensus,” Pallone told Politico in September. “Some people wanted standard time. Some people wanted daylight saving. Some say split the difference, but there’s no consensus. We can’t move anything unless there is a consensus.”

At a hearing held in March, McMorris Rodgers and Pallone’s committee heard from a University of Washington law professor who advocated permanent daylight saving time, a sleep science expert who favored permanent standard time and a representative of the nation’s convenience stores who cautioned against changing the status quo.

Steve Calandrillo, the UW law professor, cited a range of studies to argue permanent daylight saving time would save lives by reducing car accidents and decreasing crime, while boosting economic activity and saving energy.

Beth Malow, a doctor of sleep medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, agreed with Calandrillo that “springing forward” and “falling back” are harmful and insisted abolishing daylight saving time would do more good by reducing strokes, heart attacks, mental health problems and more.

After acknowledging a growing body of scientific evidence “that changing our clocks twice a year severely impacts our health,” Pallone said in the hearing, “I haven’t decided yet if I want daylight or standard, but I don’t think we should go back and forth.”

To help their panel make up its mind, Pallone and McMorris Rodgers sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg asking the agency – which manages the nation’s clocks in addition to its planes, trains and automobiles – to finish a long-delayed analysis of the pros and cons of each option.

In response, a Department of Transportation official wrote to the lawmakers in May that the agency was resuming its review of studies on the ramifications of clock changing.

On Sept. 20, the Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General – an independent watchdog – published a report that found the agency isn’t prepared to enforce the nation’s time zones and daylight saving time.

If Republicans take control of the House in the Nov. 8 election, as is widely expected based on polling, McMorris Rodgers would be in line to chair the Energy and Commerce Committee. Between her role and Murray’s staunch advocacy for permanent daylight saving time, Washington may play an outsize role in deciding if Sunday could be the last time Americans “fall back.”

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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