I recently wrote about what’s going on in state legislatures around the country. One of the criticisms that I sometimes get is that I shouldn’t pay much attention to what happens in the states because the federal law needs to get fixed, and state-level efforts are pointless.
That’s just wrong, but you’ll have to read that post to figure out why. Short version... in a movement like this... all progress is progress.
Still, a federal law would fix things, so I am all in favor of federal legislation, and with the announcement yesterday about the new version of the Sunshine Protection Act, (and the upcoming—deadly—change to the clocks), attention has turned again to D.C. So, let’s look at what is happening.
First, here are the active bills in a handy table updated continuously from the remarkably helpful people at BillTrack50.
As of this writing, there are three bills, two of them with identical language. I’ve been in touch with the staff of the sponsors of all three bills. I’m always careful to respect confidential information, and also be mindful of the legislative process, so everything I say here will not be a surprise to them.
I’ve told all of them essentially the same thing:
- I support you.
- I will do whatever I can to help.
- I hope that as these measures move forward we can adjust them a bit.
I was hoping that this year one of them would introduce a bill set up the way I think will work best, but because I do all of this as a hobby in my spare time, and because I am not the most organized person in the world, I didn’t get that message to the right people at the right time, so here we are.
Will Daylight Saving Time be Eliminated?
Where we are, however, is in a great position. When Sen. Rubio introduced his act the first time back in 2018, his effort sunk like a pebble tossed into a pond that didn’t leave a ripple. When he introduced it again in 2019 the proposal got two things that it didn’t get the first time: Lots of bipartisan cosponsors AND competing legislation in the House. Both are signs of momentum, and that’s what it takes, I’m told, to get things done in D.C.
Really, if it hadn’t been for, well, 2020 (and all that implies) this may have happened last year.
So this is the year, I think. A reporter recently asked me what the odds were that it would happen this year, and I didn’t have a good answer at the tip of my tongue. Now with a moment to think about it I think it’s 50-50 this year, and at least 75-25 next year.
What are the steps to have that happen?
At this point, really only one step, which is for one of these bills to get a hearing.
There is a chance that the concept of #LockTheClock could get woven into some other bill. That’s what happened the last time there was a change to DST. Some of you may remember that in the U.S. we formerly changed the clocks for the spring in April, and now it’s in March. That change, and one to push it just one week later (from last Sunday of October to the first Sunday of November, a change lobbied for by the candy industry) was shoehorned into the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and took effect in 2007.
The same thing could happen now. Let’s say the Support Local Transportation Act gains momentum, and seems destined to pass. A legislator could ask for an amendment to #LockTheClock to that bill. The clocks in the U.S. are managed by the Department of Transportation (a throwback to when train travel necessitated the use of uniform time) so it is not that much of a stretch. It could easily happen.
But until we have something like that proposed, what we have are the bills in front of us, so let’s take a look at those in the form of a handy table:
|Sunshine Protection Act (Senate)
(Sen. Rubio, SB 623, and HR 69)
(Rep. Stewart, HR 214)
|Central Idea||Immediate switch to make DST the new Standard Time.||Ability for states to adopt DST as their own Standard Time|
|Main points in favor||1. Ends clock changing for all states uniformly.
2. Puts all states into generally more popular DST unless they take immediate action to opt out.
|1. Gives states flexibility to end clock changing if they choose to do so.
2. Allows states the ability to go into the time zone most popular for that state.
|Main points against||1. Moves too quickly.
2. Forces states to act that
may not be ready.
|1. Moves too slowly.
2. Creates situation of patchwork
and constant changes.
|Current status||Waiting for a hearing in Senate Commerce.||Waiting for a hearing in House Commerce.|
A compromise proposal would have the goal of retaining the points in favor of both bills, while eliminating the points against.
What Congress Could Do to Fix DST in the USA
This proposal I think does that:
- Amend the Uniform Time Act to say that the mandate to change clocks will end after the Spring Forward Change in 2022.
- The time zones will be adjusted forward using the language from Senate Bill, Section 2(b)1.
- Allows any state that is on the border of a time zone to decide before March of 2022 which side of the line it wants to be on after the final “spring forward” switch.
- If a state doesn’t make any decision then it will move into the new Standard Time and so it will “spring forward” in March of 2022 and remain in that time permanently.
- If a time-zone-border state takes action through its legislature or through an initiated ballot measure on the ballot in 2021, that state can choose to “fall back” in November of 2022 and remain in that new standard time permanently.
Also, optionally, we may want to put language in the bill that directs the Department of Transportation to publish new sunrise times for each state with the instruction that those will be sent to each school district, so that before the school year the local districts can adjust their daily start times to allay any concerns about schools starting too early relative to the sunrise in the winter. (It’s a canard that later sunrises are dangerous for school children waiting at bus stops, but there is some reputable research showing that teens need more time to sleep in the mornings so this should probably happen anyway. And if we’ve learned anything in the last year, it’s that schools can be flexible about their schedules!)
We may also want to work with fire departments to have them adjust their guidelines that people check their smoke detectors at the point of the time change, and instead check them on the first day of fall and the first day of spring.
Can We Fix the Current DST Bills?
Now, if you were like me just recently, you might say that it would be best to amend these bills now... get them all fixed up before they even get a hearing! Well, that shows how you just don’t understand Washington!
Look, I don’t know anything except what I’m hearing from the staffers. In short, trying to amend the bills now is like negotiating against yourself. If someone has a better idea, let them float that idea, but let them do it in committee.
Right now, the one and only goal is to get them a hearing in front of a committee. That’s where advocates like me and others can make their voices heard and compromise can be reached.
Trying to adjust the bills now is like trying to wear fancy pants when you are on a zoom call—kinda pointless.
The Key to Fixing DST May Be Sen. Maria Cantwell
That leads me to finally wrap up this post with one central point: Let’s get a hearing for one of these bills!
For the bill that’s gotten the most attention, the one in the Senate, the person who holds the keys is Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington State. In Congress, the person who runs the committee decides what bills get a hearing, so she is the pivotal person.
What’s fun about that for me is this: Sen. Rubio, a Republican, just couldn’t get the last chair of the committee, another Republican, to give the bill a hearing. No reason was ever given publicly or privately that I heard about.
So now that control of the Senate has changed, that means Sen. Cantwell is in charge. How fantastic would it be for small-d democracy if a big-D Democrat is the person who made it possible for a Republican like Sen. Rubio to get his bill heard? I for one think it would be spectacularly fantastic because this is an issue that absolutely refuses to be put in an ideological box.
Also working in our favor is the fact that she represents Washington, a state whose legislators overwhelmingly voted for a bill to #LockTheClock in permanent Daylight Time, and was one of the first of the modern era to do so back in 2018.
That means our job—yours and mine if you are reading this—is to put the full court press on Sen. Cantwell to give this bill a hearing. We need to be respectful, etc., but we need to collectively ask everyone who might have any connection to her or her staff: When will you give the Sunshine Protection Act a hearing?
In the House, we have a similar situation, but unfortunately a bit more track record that is not promising. Essentially the same bill was introduced during the last congressional session, and the same chair, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, never gave it a hearing.
Here, it could be partisan politics. The bill last session was introduced by a conservative Republican from Utah, who retired. The main sponsor now is another conservative Republican and he has only one cosponsor, yet another Republican. I’ve been telling people literally for six years now: If you want your bill to pass, get some cosponsors from the other party!
So if you happen to be Frank Pallone’s brother-in-law, or you have some other really strong connection, tell him to ignore the sponsors and give this bill a hearing. Or, he could give a hearing to the mirror bill to Rubio’s proposal, which does have a nice bipartisan set of cosponsors. I’m sure Sen. Rubio will be fine with someone else getting the credit on this, as long as he gets to have a night’s sleep that doesn’t get cut short by an hour.
Thanks for reading, and if you have ideas of how we can convince Sen. Cantwell or Rep. Pallone, be in touch. Or just go for it, and then let me know how it goes.