As they have for generations, Californians will soon engage the national autumn ritual of setting clocks back an hour, brightening mornings and darkening afternoons as fall and winter shorten the days. Two days later, they’ll vote on whether to stop doing it.
And California isn’t the only state where that twice-yearly seasonal time shift is coming into question. From coast to coast there’s a growing movement to keep the clock sprung forward for daylight saving time all year long.
“I don’t know if you know about winter in New England — not only is it cold, but it’s dark,” said Tom Emswiler, a Boston public health advocate who has helped lead an effort to effectively put New England states on year-round Daylight Saving Time. “When you can’t see the sun anymore and it’s 3:45, everyone’s like, ‘Oh God, what a drag!'”
Florida lawmakers overwhelmingly passed legislation earlier this year to make daylight saving time year-round in the Sunshine State. They’re asking Congress to approve, and also to consider year-round daylight saving time nationwide. Lawmakers in Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Wyoming also have considered permanent daylight saving time.
California voters adopted daylight saving time — an idea that originated as an energy-saving measure in World War I — in 1949.
By 1966, amid confusion over a patchwork of schemes in each state for beginning and ending daylight saving time, Congress stepped in with the Universal Time Act to standardize it nationwide. States could opt out of daylight saving time — it’s not observed in Hawaii or much of Arizona. But those like California that use it must follow Uncle Sam’s schedule — the act doesn’t let states keep it all year.
That’s why California Assemblyman Kansen Chu, D-San Jose, who abhors the disruption of the twice yearly time switch, originally proposed keeping standard time all year in the state. But he got an earful from youth sports leagues that count on long sunny afternoons for weekday practices and games. Year-round daylight saving time met far less resistance, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed Chu’s bill putting the question before voters Nov. 6 as Proposition 7.
If approved, Prop 7 allows the state Legislature to adopt year-round daylight saving time on a two-thirds vote if Congress will allow it. There is no organized opposition to Prop 7. But it does have critics and it’s hard to say how popular it will prove with voters.
State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and Assemblyman Phillip Chen, R-Brea, noted in their opposition ballot argument that “daylight saving time does not create more hours of daylight,” it “just changes when those daylight hours occur.” Folks may not be so keen on that afternoon sun when it stays dark until 7:30 or 8 in the morning, they argued, and the twice yearly inconvenience of clock switching won’t seem so bad after all.
“You’ll be getting your family ready for the day in the dark,” they said. “Your kids will be walking to school or waiting for the school bus before the sun rises.”
Their more potent argument may prove to be that “permanent daylight saving time will put us out of sync with our neighbors” in other states.
So advocates of year-round daylight saving time are pushing for a regional or national change. A Massachusetts commission report in November on switching to year-round daylight saving time recommended doing so only if a majority of other Northeast states did so as well.
Going it alone, the commission said, could hurt with TV programming — a live event like the Oscars could stretch past 1 a.m. instead of midnight, crushing viewership. And interstate travel also could be more confusing — workers who commute across state lines could be leaving home in a different time zone than their office.
Florida already wrestles with that problem — it’s among 13 states that straddle more than one time zone, with most of the state on Eastern time and the western panhandle on Central time. So Florida lawmakers have introduced twin bills in Congress, one to allow daylight saving time all year in Florida, another to establish it nationwide. The bills, carried by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, await a commerce committee hearing.
His office is pushing the nationwide bill, said spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas, because Florida “is already on two different time zones” and “it’s a little more complicated” to just change the time scheme in one state. How would it be, the Orlando Sentinel asked, if the Orlando Magic or Tampa Bay Lightning play on the west coast and a four-hour time difference pushes the start of their games to midnight?
Rubio asserted a number of benefits that could come with nationwide daylight saving time. It would avoid the “economic decline” that follows the clock switch; reduce robberies, car crashes and wildlife roadkills; ease agricultural disruption and boost fitness.
Critics remind that amid an energy crisis and gas rationing, President Richard Nixon called for clocks to spring forward on Jan. 6, 1974, and stay that way till April 27, 1975. But by that October, with kids in New York waiting for the bus in darkness at 7:35 a.m., extended daylight saving time was scrapped and the clocks fell back on Oct. 27.
Does the months Rubio’s bills have sat in committee awaiting a hearing suggest Congress isn’t interested in repeating that experiment?
“No, not necessarily,” Perez-Cubas said. “But people don’t say the Senate moves slowly for nothing! We’re continuing to try to get it through the committee process and we hope we’ll get some momentum come November.”
Time will tell.
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