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In timely but unexpected vote, U.S. Senate goes for permanent daylight saving time

Sunrises would arrive an hour later compared to past winters if the nation adopts year-round daylight saving time.
Tom Banse
NW News Network
Winter sunrises would arrive an hour later compared to past seasons if the nation adopts year-round daylight saving time.

An abrupt awakening in Congress is raising hopes on the West Coast that last weekend's switch from standard time to daylight time might be the next to last time we go through the annoying clock change ritual. After sitting on the sidelines for years, the U.S. Senate Tuesday found the time to approve year-round daylight saving time beginning in 2023. The measure now goes to the House for further consideration.

The Washington and Oregon legislatures voted three years ago to "ditch the switch" and stick with daylight saving time permanently. The Idaho Legislature followed with a vote to keep North Idaho in sync with whatever time it is in neighboring Washington. But the desired change hasn't taken effect because Congress wouldn't make time to change a federal law that stands in the way. The federal Uniform Time Act of 1966 does not allow permanent daylight time, but states are free to follow standard time year-round.

Fresh off the most recent time change, the Senate flipped the switch for the whole country with minimal debate and on a unanimous vote. If the House agrees and President Biden signs the so-called Sunshine Protection Act, the nation would spring forward in 2023 and never look back.

"I hope my colleagues in the House — and everyone — can understand no one wants to see the sun set at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, which it currently does in the winter for those of us on the West Coast," Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray said in an exultant floor speech following the vote.

Permanent daylight saving time would make winter afternoons brighter, but also means it would stay darker for longer on winter mornings. The late sunrises have been an issue for some parents and sleep experts, concerned about getting students awake and off to school safely.

Last week, a key House committee chairman broached the possibility of taking action on time changes. But Democrat Frank Pallone of New Jersey didn’t commit to what it might be.

"I have yet to decide whether I support a permanent switch to daylight or standard time, but I do think it's time to stop changing the clocks," Pallone said at a meeting of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to hear testimony from proponents of both options.

Spokane Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the ranking Republican on the committee, said she appreciated the arguments of pro-DST state legislators and constituents from back home. But she said this subject should be a low priority.

"There remains many issues that this committee should be prioritizing before daylight savings, like unleashing American energy to help Ukraine and counter Russian aggression," McMorris Rodgers said Thursday.

University of Washington law professor Steve Calandrillo told members of Congress that moving sunlight into the evening hours has many health and economic benefits. He predicted it would decrease traffic collisions and crime while promoting outdoor recreation and commerce, the latter of which people are more likely to pursue after work than in the early morning.

In a national poll conducted right before last November's switch to standard time, 63% of Americans said they wanted to eliminate the ritual of changing the clocks. Among those who said they preferred to stop the time changes, nearly twice as many wanted to stay on daylight saving time as opposed to stay on standard time. This Economist/YouGov poll surveyed a representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adults online.

One of the voices advocating for uniform standard time is a growing West Coast-based nonprofit named Save Standard Time. Earlier this year, its founder told a Washington State Senate panel that permanent standard time offered a superior escape from the annoying time changes.

"It's the natural time defined by the sun," said Jay Pea of San Francisco. "It's best for our sleep and our health, safety, endocrinology, neurology, our cardiology, psychology and metabolism."

Pea spoke as the state Senate panel considered a proposal to move onto standard time year-round until such time as Congress authorized permanent daylight saving time. That proposal to get around congressional gridlock never came up for a vote during the Washington Legislature's just concluded 2022 session.

The prime sponsor of the successful 2019 bill in the Washington Legislature to adopt year-round daylight time cheered the unexpected momentum among federal lawmakers to abolish a practice deemed outdated and unnecessary.

"Washingtonians are ready to #DitchTheSwitch, #LockTheClock, and never fall back again!” state Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane) said in a social media hashtag-sprinkled statement Tuesday.

In 2018-19, Oregon, Washington and California were in the vanguard of a movement in the states to pass laws or resolutions to permanently switch to daylight saving time. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 18 states have signaled eagerness to go this route whenever Congress gives the green light.

Arizona, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, which adopted year-round standard time decades ago, would be left alone under the provisions of the bipartisan Sunshine Protection Act.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.