Male hands changing the time on old-fashioned alarm clock

Wrinkle in Time: Will Lawmakers End Our Clock-Changing Grind?

By Jim Reed | Oct. 30, 2020 | State Legislatures Magazine

Momentum is building in state legislatures to address the disliked clock-changing exercise we endure biannually.

Virtually every state has considered bills on the topic in the last five years—most to permanently switch to daylight saving time, or DST, which 13 states have now done. Congress is contemplating bills to make a change, too, as current federal law prohibits states from enacting DST permanently. Federal law does allow states to stay on standard time and not change clocks with the passage of state legislation, as Arizona, Hawaii and most U.S. territories have done.

In 2020, 32 states considered 85 measures, and Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, South Carolina, Utah and Wyoming enacted legislation. All these bills would establish DST as the official time year-round, should federal law be changed to allow it. In some cases, the change would be contingent on surrounding states enacting the same legislation. Previously, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Maine, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington passed similar legislation, and California voters authorized such a change in 2018, but legislative action is still pending.

The primary complaint of those seeking change is the act of clock switching itself and the problems it creates. Most advocates of change agree on that much, but opinions diverge on the benefits of permanent daylight time versus permanent standard time.

The primary complaint of those seeking change is the act of clock switching itself and the problems it creates.

As NCSL constituents learned during the recent webinar “Is the Clock Running Out on Standard Time?” changing the clock twice a year to move in and out of daylight saving time is disruptive to the human body’s circadian rhythm and is linked to any number of negative health impacts.

Mayo Clinic Health pulmonologist and sleep physician Dr. M. Adeel Rishi, author of the position statement by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which favors fixed, national, year-round standard time, detailed a host of medical studies that document the risks associated with clock changing: a higher risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular ailments, an increase in emergency room visits, a greater number of people experiencing mood disturbances and suicide risk, an increased risk of fatal motor vehicle crashes, and an increased risk of medical errors on the part of medical personnel.

Rishi explained that standard time is more aligned with human circadian biology and that the body may not adjust to DST even after several months, with permanent DST potentially causing “social jet lag,” which is associated with increased risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and depression. He concluded that existing public safety data support the elimination of seasonal time changes in favor of a fixed year-round time

Utah Representative Raymond Ward (R), the House sponsor of the enacted 2020 legislation in his state, surveyed his constituents and found overwhelming support for stopping clock changes and a strong preference (66%) for more sunlight in the evening hours. In addition, 65% said the issue was important or very important to them. His recommended solution to legislative colleagues is to aim for what people want—more daylight in the evenings—even if it requires a change in federal law, and to make clear that the change will occur only when surrounding states also change.

Scott Yates, an advocate of “locking the clock”—that is, ending clock changing—has testified before legislative committees in a number of states, with a message of how complex the issue can be. He favors locking the clock but prefers neither standard nor daylight time as there are benefits on both sides. His website contains a firsthand account of a mom whose children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder face tremendous challenges after each time change. He noted that outdoor recreation, grilling, golf and similar industries favor more daylight at the end of the day, while sleep researchers and the live broadcast TV industry would favor standard time, bringing earlier darkness in the evening.

Oklahoma Representative Denise Brewer (D) favors eliminating time changes and sponsored a failed bill to place her state on standard time year-round. She cited negative health impacts, decreased productivity and increased costs to the economy resulting from time-change confusion. Standard time is more in line with the natural internal clock of humans, she said.

And so, the debate continues. This year, the time change and earlier darkness may be even more difficult given the metaphorical darkness of the pandemic and the resultant elevated stress and anxiety reported by adults in the U.S. Going into the new year, state legislators will continue to grapple with this vexing and multifaceted state policy question.

Jim Reed leads the Environment, Energy and Transportation Program at NCSL.

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