I knew when I started this journey that fixing Daylight Saving Time would be hard, but I didn't know about the lawyers.
Or the time travel.
In spite of the fact (or maybe because of the fact) that I was on Comedy Central, this issue is no joke. When I first started on this six years ago, I just wrote my blog posts and hoped for the best.
Now it’s getting real.
Tomorrow afternoon, the Colorado Legislature will once again take up this issue, something I learned about from my daily alerts from BillTrack50.
In Colorado, however, it’s always been the same: The bills die in the first committee they hit. There’s never even that much debate. The ski industry kills them every time. The ski industry representatives never even gave much of a reason for killing the bills. One year they said something about needing the morning light to examine the ski lifts.
I suggested that we all pitch in and buy them some flashlights, and while that made some of the legislators in the room laugh, still... incredibly... the bill died.
I don’t think this is actually that big of an issue for the ski industry, but that industry is so powerful in Colorado that the lobbyists just kill the bills instinctively, like swatting flies.
So I didn't have much hope for the bill that was offered up this year, especially when I saw that was assigned to what everyone in the statehouse calls the “kill committee.”
The sponsor, however, is a guy named Scott, so that gave me some hope, even though it’s his last name ;-) He agreed to meet me.
Now, here was the weird thing for me: I was meeting with a State Senator, a big shot in any state. And my plan was to go in and tell him that his bill stunk, and that he should throw it out and do something different.
What kind of ego does it take to do that? Huge!
My ego is big, but I didn't know if it would be big enough. I figured my chance of success was about 20 percent that I could get a guy I’ve never met to take something that he felt passionate enough about to introduce a bill, and instead throw that out and do something that is untested, complex and involves time travel. (More on that in a second.)
But I hadn't met Sen. Scott.
He invited me into his office, and we had a grand conversation. It turns out that while he does have an ego big enough to put his name on billboards and bumperstickers, he had no ego about his bill. He also knew that it was likely to die in its current form and in front of the Kill Committee, so he was probably a bit more open to suggestion because of that.
I sat down with him and we talked about the current state of Daylight Saving Time, especially about the bills now in front of the U.S. Congress. I told him that of the two bills, the Sunshine Protection Act probably had the best chance of passing.
Daylight Saving Time wonk section
(Feel free to skip over this if you don't want to get really deep into the sausage-making part of DST legislation, but you’ll miss the time-travel part, so...)
Three things you need to know here:
- The Sunshine Protection Act calls for the whole country to go into Daylight Saving Time as soon as it is approved.
- The U.S. Congress serves all year long.
- The Colorado Legislature only meets in the first part of the year, adjourning in early May.
I've been working with the office of Sen. Rubio, the sponsor of the federal bill. Among other things, I've been expressing my concern about the enactment of the bill, which is immediate. If the bill passes before the first Sunday of November, that’s it! No more clock changing.
Now, you think I would love that. But here’s the thing... I want a solution that’s really going to last. We’ve had some quick solutions in the past, and they haven’t stuck. I do not want to see that happen again.
So what I would like to see is the European approach: Decide that we are no longer going to have clock-changing, and then give each state a year to decide what time zone it wants to land in permanently.
My hunch is that most states, like most people, will want to end up in what is now Daylight Saving Time, but there could be some exceptions, especially among states along the western edge of their time zones. Indiana and Michigan are probably the two most likely candidates here.
Also, some of the states that are split right now—North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Kentucky—are other good candidates to unify under a single time zone.
Here in Colorado, I’m pretty sure that voters will want to move to permanent Daylight Saving Time, but I’m not sure, and I think the voters should make that decision.
But if Rubio’s bill passes, we will never have the chance to decide. It will just happen. The federal law will change and Colorado will not have a legislature in session to do anything about it, even ask the voters for a preference.
Sen. Scott figured out that from his perspective, this makes the matter rather urgent. He’s a proponent of Permanent DST also, but he also is not crazy about the idea of a federal law coming down on Colorado before we have any chance to have any say at all.
So together we figured out that what should really happen is that we should have a referendum that asks the voters this:
"IF FEDERAL LAW CHANGES TO REPEAL THE ANNUAL ADVANCEMENT OF TIME
COMMONLY KNOWN AS DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME, WHICH OF THE
FOLLOWING OPTIONS DO YOU PREFER FOR THE YEAR-ROUND TIME IN
COLORADO?" EACH ELECTOR MUST HAVE THE OPTION TO SELECT
"STAYING ON STANDARD TIME YEAR-ROUND" OR "STAYING ON DAYLIGHT
SAVING TIME YEAR-ROUND"?
Now if you think that is how I talk, or how Sen. Ray Scott talks, you don't know us at all. We talk like regular people. But Sen. Scott is indeed a senator, so he asked the legislative drafting office to put what we were talking about into the all-caps, legally proper version you see there.
(Lawyers. We all love to make fun of them, but when we need something legal done, we want a good one, and luckily Colorado has great ones.)
But then the staff lawyer who helped us pointed out the bit about time travel. It goes like this:
- The federal bill right now says that it goes into effect as soon as it is signed.
- It also allows that any state on permanent Standard Time the day before enactment can stay on that time. (Arizona, Hawaii and Puerto Rico all are on Standard Time right now.)
- If Colorado voters choose to stay on Standard Time year round, they only want to do that if the federal bill becomes law and takes away the clock changing.
- So they won’t be voting to go on Permanent Standard Time no matter what, only in the event the federal law changes.
- That means that Colorado will actually go into Permanent Standard Time on the day before the federal law is enacted.
- It could be that the federal law will change after the legislature is out, but before the election.
- If that happens, and then in the election Coloradans vote to go on Permanent Standard Time, we will have to—legally if not in reality—travel back in time and declare that we are in Permanent Standard Time on the day before the enactment so that we can follow federal and Colorado law.
As Dr. Emmett Brown might say: “Eureka!”
I did not go to law school, and I'm kind of glad, because I didn't have to write the language to make that work.
But the lawyers did write it, and Sen. Scott OK'd it, and now it is going to be introduced tomorrow.
It is complex, sure, but if there was an easy solution to figure all this out, someone would have come up with it already, and we wouldn't be suffering the deadly effects of the clock-switching.
Will this work?
I have to say that I'm hopeful that even the Kill Committee will pass this. And even if it doesn't, I've got four states with sponsors already waiting to get this language so they can look at it for their own states, and those are just the four that wrote to me late last week. I wouldn't be surprised if a dozen states end up passing something like this during this legislative session.
It solves several problems:
- The problem of which way to go.
Everyone hates the clock changing, but science and popular opinion are at best mixed on the issue of which side is better: Permanent DST or Permanent Standard Time. Most of the polls have leaned toward Permanent DST, but they are usually muddled because they also ask if people want to keep changing twice a year. There is a percentage of people who say they actually like that, although I haven’t met one in real life.
This approach strips everything else away and asks the voters which one they want.
- The problem of which way businesses want to go.
People have the power here. The way it has worked is that businesses—often way behind the scenes—have used paid lobbyists to get what they want, which in most cases is the status quo. Now if, for instance, the recreation industries want to make the case that Permanent DST is better, they can do so right out in public and see if they can convince the voters. If the television industry thinks it can make the case that we should not be outside, but be inside on the couch watching TV, they can say that. On TV, even. But they won't be able to kill bills in some dimly lit bar buying drinks for legislators.
- The federal law problem
Every day state legislators have to deal with the consequences of federal laws. This bill solves a problem with coming federal legislation before it even comes. That’s the kind of pro-active thing that states always want to do, but rarely can. In this case, it works.
- The when-to-act problem
It is always hard to know when to act as a legislator. They don’t want to solve problems before they exist, but they also don't want to come so late to a problem that legislation seems like an after-thought. This approach deals with a federal bill before it becomes an issue, and at the same time gives voters a chance to weigh in on an issue that I am certain every legislator has heard from constituents about.
The timing part of this is something I hadn’t really thought of, I got that from Sen. Scott. I just think of this as an effort that I just keep working on, like the people who paint the Golden Gate Bridge from one end to the other and then start all over again.
But Sen. Scott pointed out the timing issue. This may be the only chance the states get to have a say about this issue before it gets yanked away by the feds.
Will this happen?
I will let you know here on this blog when I can, and on my Twitter feed right away.
Wish me luck!