What time is it? Senate vote sets off debate on Daylight Saving Time

FILE PHOTO: Architect of the Capitol workers wind Ohio Clock in Washington
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By Andy Sullivan

In a bitterly divided Washington, Republicans and Democrats apparently agree on one thing: the twice-yearly ritual of changing clocks needs to end.

Even with that rare show of bipartisan consensus, it is less clear whether the county will be able to agree on a common time standard.

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved legislation that would make Daylight Saving Time (DST) permanent, which would eliminate the need to “fall back” or “spring forward”, as the saying goes to help Americans remember which way to adjust their clocks.

“I wanna take ‘setting clocks back’ out in a field and beat it to death,” tweeted Jason Kander, a Democrat who formerly served as Missouri Secretary of State.

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives, taken by surprise by the Senate’s swift approval, promised they would tackle the issue as well.

“That was unexpected,” said Democratic Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a member of House leadership. “I think it’s an important step that we should take.”

Opinion polls show Americans broadly dislike the annual shift between Standard Time, which aims to maximize daylight during winter mornings, and Daylight Saving Time, which delays sunset by an hour during spring, summer and fall. Every U.S. state except Hawaii and Arizona toggles between both.

Researchers have found plenty of downsides as well, including a documented spike in heart attacks, strokes and sleep deprivation in the days after clocks are moved forward an hour every March.

There is less of a consensus over which standard Congress should make permanent.

Advocates for Daylight Saving Time say the extra hour of afternoon daylight generates more economic activity and reduces crime and traffic accidents in the evening rush hour, when children are more likely to be out playing and drivers more likely to have alcohol in their system.

“It is past time that we set our clocks forward forever,” University of Washington law professor Steve Calandrillo said in congressional testimony last week.

Sleep researchers say Standard Time lines up with the human biological clock, which needs light to be fully alert.

A year-round Daylight Saving Time, as the Senate bill calls for, would require children to go to school in the dark and make it more difficult for them to go to bed at an appropriate hour, Vanderbilt University neurologist Beth Malow told Congress last week.

Daylight Saving Time was first adopted in 1918 to conserve fuel during World War I. But studies have found little, if any, energy savings from the shift, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Congress tried year-round Daylight Saving Time in 1974 when oil prices spiked, but dropped it that fall.

Support for a permanent standard has grown in recent years. Since 2018, 18 states have passed laws to provide for year-round DST if Congress takes action, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Reuters

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