By James B. Reed
Our national, twice yearly ritual of changing clocks occurs at 2 a.m. Sunday, as the official national time shifts from daylight saving time (DST) back to standard time, except for those places that stay on standard time year-round, namely Arizona (except for the Navajo Nation), Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
But is this practice soon to be passé?
State legislative enactments on daylight saving time took a dramatic turn in 2019. Six states passed legislation to stop the clock change by declaring a preference to stay on daylight time, joining two states which did so in 2018.
Since 2015, over 200 bills and resolutions have been introduced in virtually every state on this topic, but none passed until 2018, when Florida became the first state to enact legislation to permanently observe DST, pending amendment of federal law to permit such action. (A smattering of resolutions passed in prior years call on Congress to allow states to make DST permanent.)
In California, the successful passage of Proposition 7 by voters in 2018 gave the Legislature the authorization to switch the state to permanent daylight saving time, pending approval from the federal government. A bill is pending this year to implement this change.
The trend grew substantially in 2019 as six additional states—Arkansas, Delaware, Maine, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington—passed bills and are now poised to eliminate clock switching by moving to year-round daylight time, if authorized by Congress. Some of these bills accomplish permanent DST by moving one time zone east and include a provision to delay the effective date until adjacent states do the same, thereby preserving regional time zone continuity.
In addition, Utah passed a resolution this year urging Congress to pass the proposed federal Daylight Protection Act (HR 1601) which would allow states to observe daylight savings time for the duration of the year.
Debate continues about the benefits of daylight time versus standard time, and whether to legislate staying on one or the other. What is generally agreed is the inconvenience and even the peril associated with the actual March and November time changes. The act of time-switching is the primary complaint of those seeking a change from the current situation.
With some 75 bills considered in 40 states, this year witnessed the most activity ever, and the tide turned towards favoring year-round daylight time.
Sixty-four percent of bills advocated permanent daylight time, while 24 percent sought to maintain standard time year-round. The remaining bills called for a either a study or a statewide vote on the topic. Some 30 bills are still pending in 17 states, many of which will carry over to the 2020 sessions, with just over half favoring permanent DST. A pre-filed bill in Kentucky for 2020 would place the state on year-round DST.
A variety of studies over the years associate risk with the time change, beyond the obvious personal adjustments we have to make like coming home from work in the dark and coping with the slower-than-hoped resetting of our internal time clocks.
The arguments in favor of DST that seem to be influencing the debate are that lives would be saved due to fewer vehicle crashes and pedestrian deaths, evening crime would decrease, energy would be saved due to less need for evening lighting, and recreation and commerce would flourish during longer evening daylight hours.
The enacted Delaware bill this year cited these reasons as well as increased workplace productivity and reduction in job-related injuries. The U.S. Department of Transportation time zone web site states that DST saves energy, saves lives and prevents traffic injuries and it reduces crime, since people tend to be out and about more in daylight hours as opposed to at night when most crimes are committed.
The United States had daylight saving time as early as 1918, with the current federal policy being enacted in 1966, as the Uniform Time Act. Several changes occurred along the way, mostly changing the dates of starting and ceasing DST. The current situation was established as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is the federal agency responsible for overseeing DST and the country’s time zones. Current law allows a state to exempt itself from observing daylight saving time, upon action by the state legislature to do so, but does not allow the permanent observance of DST.
NCSL will address state activity on daylight saving time in a meeting session entitled “More Daylight? States Examine Changes to the Biannual Time Switch” on Dec. 11, 2019 at the Capitol Forum in Phoenix.
Jim Reed directs the Environment, Energy and Transportation at NCSL.