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Dreading the Coming Gloom? Blame Congress For Not Making Daylight Saving Time Permanent

Originally published at The Seattle Times

It’s already too late to fix the clock this year. Congress has failed to pass legislation to allow states to stay on permanent daylight saving time. On Nov. 3, we return to tiresome old Standard Time. Some people like that, but most don’t.

Last spring the cause of permanent daylight saving time seemed bright. State after state asked Congress for permission to enact the change. California voters in a November, 2018, referendum supported it 60% to 40%. Floridians, led by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and House Rep. Vern Buchanan, were enthusiastic. Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Patty Murray of Washington joined Rubio to co-sponsor the Sunshine Protection Act of 2019. “Making Daylight Saving Time permanent is O.K. with me!” tweeted President Donald Trump.

It was something, you know, to show we can all get along. But, as shadows cross October’s sky, the issue has gone into hibernation on Capitol Hill.

It’s hard to find out what happened — or didn’t. The bills never came to a vote in either the House or Senate commerce committees. Former Washington Sen. Slade Gorton, author of a 1980s change that expanded the use of daylight time by a month, says that all it might take is someone with seniority to ask the Commerce chairs, “Let’s mark this up!”

One senator who could make a difference is Washington’s Sen. Maria Cantwell, ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee. When the Washington State Legislature, with the governor’s encouragement, backed the reform last spring, Sen. Cantwell said, “Well our state legislature has spoken, so we’ll try to carry that through at the national level.” But nothing has happened.

Why was Congress inactive on the bill? Perhaps it is because members know that public support for daylight saving time tends to lose intensity once the clocks fall back. That’s too bad, because the case for permanent change is strong.

Moving time zones back an hour in most of the country would cause less disruption than was feared in the past. The argument that parents do not want their children going to school in the dark is less persuasive these days, when more schools are starting later in the morning. Indeed, reports by the American Journal of Public Health and the Journal of Public Safety cite a reduction in “car crashes and car accidents involving pedestrians” when students and workers go home in daylight rather than darkness.

Like other advocates, Rubio argues further that changing clocks back and forth twice a year is sometimes bad for health, precipitating rises in cardiac arrests and seasonal depression.

Crime is also an issue. Many office workers believe that it is somewhat safer to go to work in the dark than to come home in the dark. Supporting that belief was a Review of Economics and Statistics report in 2015 that crime rates drop 7% when daylight saving time starts. Criminals like to sleep in, apparently, and to prowl in the early hours of darkness.

But another changeover is in the offing, and another and another. Unless citizens pester their members of Congress more than twice a year — when the changeovers are made in November and March — there is little incentive for federal legislators to take action.

Bruce Chapman

Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute
Bruce Chapman has had a long career in American politics and public policy at the city, state, national, and international levels. Elected to the Seattle City Council and as Washington State's Secretary of State, he also served in several leadership posts in the Reagan administration, including ambassador. In 1991, he founded the public policy think tank Discovery Institute, where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and director of the Chapman Center on Civic Leadership.