Changing times: Californians voted to stick with daylight time years ago but will still ‘fall back’ Sunday | Courthouse News Service
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Changing times: Californians voted to stick with daylight time years ago but will still ‘fall back’ Sunday

Federal action is needed if any state wants to adopt daylight saving time year-round.

(CN) — The phone calls and emails start rolling in for Sion Roy around this time each year.

It’s the changing of the clocks — the “fall back” — that leads to the inquiries.

Roy, past president of the Los Angeles County Medical Association, was an author of the argument in favor of Proposition 7. That 2018 proposition, which passed statewide with almost 60% of the vote, set the stage for California to have daylight saving time become permanent.

“It makes sense just to have the same time,” Roy said.

While it passed overwhelmingly, Californians will still need to change their clocks come Sunday.

Proposition 7 enables the Legislature to change the days and times for daylight saving time, meaning it could last year-round. However, the Legislature must approve that change by a two-thirds vote. Also, federal law must be altered before that can happen.

So while California voters supported a permanent daylight saving time at the polls, Congress must act for it occur. And that hasn’t happened.

“There are a million problems and this is not at the forefront of the problems,” Roy said.

The official argument Roy helped write stated that heart attack risk climbs by 10% in the two days after a time change and stroke risk increases by 8%. The time change disrupts sleep and increases electricity use. It also causes people to use more fuel and comes with a price tag of $434 million.

There has been movement on the federal level. Florida Senator Marco Rubio last year introduced the Sunshine Protection Act. If passed, it would eliminate “falling back” in autumn and the country would instead have 12 months of daylight saving time.

Those who don’t currently observe daylight saving time — parts of Arizona, Hawaii, and five U.S. territories — would be unaffected.

“This bill has bipartisan support in Congress and the support of 22 states,” the Florida Republican said in a statement to Courthouse News. “I’m hopeful that we can finally get this done.” 

However, the Sunshine Protection Act is stalled in Congress. It appears unlikely lawmakers will make any moves on it this year.

And the clock keeps ticking.

Turn back the clock

Karin Johnson, vice president of Save Standard Time, is at the other end of the argument from Roy. Her group seeks to maintain and expand the use of “longitudinally correct standard time.”

Daylight saving time, Johnson said, adds no hours to the day.

“It misaligns our social schedules with the sun,” she said.

Not only that, it affects how people learn, drive and work, among many other aspects of life.

A yearlong daylight saving time would mean it remains dark after 8 a.m. for two to four months, depending on where someone is in the country.

For Johnson, in Massachusetts, she’d see the sun rise after 8 a.m. for about two months during the winter. Someone in Atlanta would have darkness for over three months.

Later sunrises mean people’s body clocks are misaligned. That leads to higher rates of cancer, obesity, suicide and deadly car crashes, Johnson said.

According to Johnson, advocates for a 12-month daylight saving time favor golfing and retail businesses. However, people affected the most by later sunrises include teens and people who must work before 8 a.m. — a disproportionate number of whom are minorities and those with lower incomes.

Johnson pointed to a YouGov poll that shows that while Americans prefer daylight saving time, the values important to them — maintaining time that lines up with circadian rhythms, heightening morning safety and improved sleep — would instead be found if the country used permanent standard time.

The Clocktower in Rome, Ga. (Ryan Smith via Courthouse News)

Keeping time

Severin Borenstein — professor at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley — called himself one of the few defenders of the current system.

“I think that nothing’s perfect,” he said.

The country already has tried a never-ending daylight saving time, once in 1974. It was quickly repealed, after people discovered they were going to work and school before the sun rose.

“People are going to work in the dark,” Borenstein said. “I think a lot of people would find that difficult.”

Add to that the disruption he said people would likely experience with year-round daylight saving time. The current system adjusts schedules en masse based on the number of daylight hours. Borenstein anticipates individual businesses would change their operating hours under a yearlong daylight saving time depending on the daylight hours. That could prove difficult for parents trying to get their kids to school with different operating hours, while they both try to get to their jobs.

“It’s a trade-off,” Borenstein said. “There’s no question there’s disruption with changing the clock.”

Borenstein said he’s seen studies that point to an increase in car wrecks and heart attacks linked to the time change. He believes them. However, he said it’s also easy to study those effects when the time changes. It’s much harder to study those impacts over an entire season.

Next steps

Existing law appears to favor those who want permanent standard time.

States can opt into daylight saving time, which a vast majority do. If they take that route, it must start and stop on designated days. This year, it began on March 12. It will end at 2 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 5.

States also can choose against using daylight saving time. No federal permission is needed, only a change to state law. A change to federal law is required for permanent daylight time.

“You don’t need an act of Congress,” Johnson said of moving to standard time. “It can just be done.”

According to Johnson, the tide is turning in her favor.

Rubio’s Sunshine Protection Act hasn’t passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Add to that 26 states that have submitted legislation seeking permanent standard time. No bills have passed in states this year that would implement permanent daylight time, Johnson said.

Action, or inaction, like that leads Borenstein to believe that a switch to permanent daylight saving time isn’t inevitable, despite moves like California made in 2018 with Proposition 7.

“The length of the day is changing, whether we like it or not,” he added. “Nothing is going to be perfect.”

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