Clock runs out on efforts to make daylight saving time permanent

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Early this Sunday morning, Americans will engage in the annual fall ritual of “falling back” — setting their clocks back one hour to standard time.

If some lawmakers have their way, it could mark the end of a tradition that stretches back more than a century. But it’s a familiar tale of congressional gridlock and relentless lobbying by advocates for what some jokingly call the “Big Sleep.”

The perpetual “spring forward” bill has been stalled in Congress for more than seven months as lawmakers trade off whether to pass the Senate legislation. House officials say they are inundated with divided opinions from voters and warnings from sleep experts, who instead insist that adopting a permanent standard time would be healthier, and congressional leaders admit they don’t know what to do.

“We have yet to find consensus in the House on this,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (DNJ) said in a statement to The Washington Post. “There is a wide range of opinions on whether to keep the status quo, go to permanent time and, if so, what time it should be.”

Pallone, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees time-change policies, said he was wary of repeating an earlier attempt by Congress to establish year-round daylight saving time nearly 50 years ago, which was quickly overturned amid widespread reports of darker winters. The morning led to more car accidents and dull moods.

“We didn’t want to make a hasty change and put it back several years later after public opinion turned against it — which is exactly what happened in the early 1970s,” Pallone said.

If lawmakers hit the snooze button, congressional aides said there’s little chance the legislation will advance during the lame-duck period that follows next week’s election.

The bill’s quiet demise ended an extraordinary episode that briefly held back Congress, became fodder for late-night comics and fueled water-cooler debate. The Senate’s unanimous vote in March to allow states to permanently change their clocks caught some members of the chamber by surprise — and, contrary to traditional Washington dynamics, it slowed the House Senate’s passage of the legislation.

Key senators who supported permanent daylight saving time say they are mystified that their effort will die and are disappointed that they may have to start over in the next Congress. At least 19 states in recent years have enacted laws or passed resolutions allowing them to impose daylight saving time year-round — but only if Congress approves legislation to stop the nation’s two annual time changes, according to the National Conference. State Legislatures.

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“This is not a partisan or regional issue, this is a common issue,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said in a statement. Rep. A bipartisan companion bill in the House with support from 48 Republicans and Democrats. Senate staff noted the nearly two-year deadlock in the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee, chaired by John Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

“I don’t know why the House refuses to pass this bill — it seems like they’re rarely in session — but I’m going to keep pushing to make this a reality,” Rubio said, taking a swipe at his congressional counterparts.

The gloomy mood of Rubio and his colleagues this fall is in stark contrast to their sunny celebrations, when the Senate abruptly passed their bill two days after the “spring forward” clock change, even as goggy lawmakers tout it as common-sense reform.

“My phone is ringing off the hook in support of this bill – from moms and dads who want more daylight before bed to senior citizens who want more sun in the evening to farmers who can use the extra daylight to work outdoors,” Sen. Rep. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) said in a fundraising email sent in March.

But behind the scenes, Bill’s prognosis was immediately clouded.

Some senators told reporters they were surprised the bill passed through a parliamentary procedure known as unanimous consent, which eliminates the need for debate or an actual vote count if no senator objects to the measure and prefers more traditional hearings. and legislative markers. Sleep experts and neuroscientists urgently warn that avoiding early morning sunlight can harm circadian rhythms, sleep-wake cycles and overall health. Groups such as religious Jewish people complained that moving the clocks after winter prevented them from holding morning prayers after sunrise and preventing them from getting to work and school on time.

There are regional differences in who benefits most from permanent daylight saving time. Legislators in southern states like Florida argue for increased sunlight exposure for their residents during the winter months — but some people living on the western edge of time zones like the northern United States or Indianapolis don’t see the sunrise. till 9 a.m. on winter days

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And in the House, lawmakers and staffers working on the issue pointed to polls showing deep divisions in public opinion about how to proceed. 64 percent of respondents to a March 2022 YouGov poll said they wanted to stop changing the clocks twice a year, only half of those who favored the change wanted permanent daylight saving time, while a third supported permanent standard time and others were unsure.

“We know most Americans don’t want to turn the clock back and forth,” Schakowsky said in a statement to the Post, adding that he has received calls arguing in favor of both sides. Permanent standard time advocates don’t want children waiting on dark winter mornings for the school bus; Permanent daylight saving time advocates want to help businesses enjoy more sunlight during business hours, he said.

A congressional aide working on the issue was more blunt: “We’re going to hurt half the country no matter what,” said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly internally. Discussions.

The White House has avoided taking a position on the legislation, and in interviews, administration officials said the issue was complex and affected both trade and health issues.

Pallone and other lawmakers said they are waiting on the Department of Transportation, which helps regulate time zone enforcement, to review the effects of permanently changing the clocks. Although the transit agency agreed to conduct the study in September, the deadline for that analysis — December. 31, 2023 – indicates the issue may not be seriously considered again in Congress until 2024.

Around-the-clock lobbying efforts have faded after tens of millions of dollars spent by advocates for so-called Big Pharma or Big Tech, with some congressional aides joking that the debate has awakened the “Big Sleep”: organized resistance from sleep doctors and researchers who issued letters to advocates warning against permanent daylight saving time. , according to a review of federal disclosures, traveled to Capitol Hill to pitch lawmakers on permanent standard time and significantly increased their lobbying expenses.

For example, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, or AASM — which in recent years has focused its advocacy on issues such as improving care for sleep apnea — included new priorities in its federal filings this year: lobbying lawmakers on the Senate’s Sunshine Protection Act and “issues related to seasonal time changes.”

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AASM doubled its lobbying spending from $70,000 in the third quarter of 2021 to $130,000 in the third quarter of 2022 and added a lobbyist who specializes in health-care issues and used to work for Schakowsky.

An official confirmed that the daylight saving time debate had caught the attention of the sleep-medicine academy.

“When the Senate passed the Sunshine Protection Act last spring, we decided that advocacy to establish a permanent standard time should be an immediate priority,” Melissa Clark, AASM’s director of advocacy and public awareness, wrote in an email.

Clark added that AASM has visited the offices of dozens of legislators to advocate for permanent standard time. “This is a matter for everyone,” he wrote.

This is an issue that resonates abroad. Mexican lawmakers passed a law last month to end daylight saving time in much of their country, a move that was quickly signed into law by the nation’s president.

But not everyone agrees that change — any change — is necessary.

Political commentator Josh Barrow, who has repeatedly argued for preserving the current system, said permanent daylight savings or permanent standard time would not make sense.

“I think we have the system we have for a good reason … we have a certain number of daylight hours in a day and it varies depending on the Earth’s axial tilt. And we need a way to manage that so we don’t wake up long after sunrise on most days,” Barrow said. “It’s really the government solving the coordination problem.”

Beth Ann Malow, a neurologist and sleep medicine researcher at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, emphasized that she continues to support permanent standard time, as she testified at a congressional hearing earlier this year. But Malo also says the United States needs a compromise — moving the clock back 30 minutes and then staying forever.

“I know that permanent standard time people and permanent daylight saving time people would be disappointed because they didn’t get what they wanted, and we would be out of sync with other countries,” Malow said. “But this is a way to stop going back and forth.”


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