Clock runs out on efforts to make daylight saving time permanent

Kiran

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

If some lawmakers have their way, it would mark the end of a tradition that has spanned more than a century. But an untold story of congressional gridlock and relentless lobbying, this is from supporters who some call the “Big Sleep.”

A bill for permanent “spring forward” has stalled in Congress for more than seven months, as lawmakers trade jabs about whether the Senate should pass the legislation at all. House officials say they have been plagued by voters with divided opinions and warnings from sleep specialists who insist that adopting a permanent standard time would be healthier, and congressional leaders admit they don’t know what to do.

“We haven’t been able to find a consensus in the House on this,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (DN.J.) said in a statement to The Washington Post. “There are different opinions about whether to keep the status quo, move to a permanent time, and if so, when it should be.”

Pallone, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce committee that oversees time-change policy, also said he was wary of repeating a previous congressional effort to enact year-round daylight saving time nearly 50 years ago, which was quickly repealed amid widespread reports that winter was dark. . the morning leading to a car accident more drearier moods.

“We don’t want a change that is rushed and then reversed a few years after public opinion turns against it — which is exactly what happened in the early 1970s,” Pallone said.

With lawmakers hitting the snooze button, there is little chance for legislation to advance during the lame duck period after next week’s election, congressional aides said.

The bill’s quiet collapse ended an unusual episode that briefly gripped Congress, became fodder for late-night comics and fueled a more chilling debate. The Senate’s unanimous vote in March to allow states to permanently move their clocks surprised some of the chamber’s own members — and contrary to Washington’s traditional dynamic, the House delayed Senate legislation.

Key senators advocating for permanent daylight saving time say they are baffled that their efforts are likely doomed, and frustrated that they will likely have to start over in the next Congress. At least 19 states in recent years have enacted laws or passed resolutions that would allow them to enforce daylight saving time year-round — but only if Congress passes legislation to end the nation’s twice-annual time change, according to the National Conference of Legislatures. Province.

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“This is not a partisan or regional issue, it’s a common sense issue,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who wrote the Sunshine Protection Act, which passed the Senate in March, said in a statement. Senate staff noted that a bipartisan companion bill in the House, supported by 48 Republicans and Democrats, has stalled for nearly two years in the Energy and Commerce subcommittee chaired by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

“I don’t know why the House refuses to pass this bill – they seem to rarely be in session – but I’m going to keep pushing to make this a reality,” Rubio said, mocking his congressional counterparts.

The gloomy mood of Rubio and his colleagues this fall was a stark contrast to the bright celebrations when the Senate suddenly passed the bill two days after the “spring forward” clock change, and lawmakers still-groggy campaigned it as a common-sense reform.

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

But behind the scenes, the bill’s forecast almost immediately clouded.

Several senators told reporters they were surprised that the bill was passed by a parliamentary procedure known as unanimous consent, which eliminates the need for debate or an actual vote count if no senators object to the measure, and hoped that there would be a more traditional series of hearings. and legislative markups. Sleep experts and neurologists urgently warn that avoiding sunlight in the morning will harm the circadian rhythm, sleep-wake cycle and overall health. Groups such as religious Jews complained that moving the clock later in the winter would prevent them from performing morning prayers after sunrise and still being able to work and go to school on time.

There are also regional differences in who will benefit from permanent daylight saving time. Lawmakers in Southern states such as Florida say it will maximize sunlight for their citizens during the winter months – but some people who live in the northern part of the United States or on the western edge of the time zone, such as Indianapolis, do not see the sunrise in some. winter days until 9 am

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And in the House of Representatives, lawmakers and staff working on the issue point to surveys that show a deep divide in public opinion about how to proceed. Although 64 percent of respondents to a March 2022 YouGov poll said they wanted to stop changing the hours twice a year, only about half of those who favored the change wanted daylight saving time permanent, while about a third supported it permanently. Standard time and others are uncertain.

“We know that the majority of Americans do not want to continue to move the clock back,” Schakowsky said in a statement to The Post, adding that he received calls arguing for both sides. Defending the permanent standard time does not want children to wait in the dark winter morning for the school bus; Proponents of permanent daylight saving time want to help businesses enjoy more sunlight during operating hours, he said.

A congressional aide who has worked on the issue was more specific: “We’re going to disrupt half the country no matter what,” said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. consultation.

The White House has avoided taking a position on the legislation, and in interviews, administration officials said the issue is complex and affects trade and health matters.

Pallone and other lawmakers said they are waiting for the Department of Transportation, which helps mandate time zone enforcement, to review the effects of changing the hours permanently. While the transportation agency in September agreed to conduct a study, the exact date for that analysis – December 31, 2023 – indicates that the issue may not be seriously considered in Congress again until 2024 at the earliest.

And while lobbying efforts around the clock change pale next to the tens of millions of dollars spent by advocates to be called Big Pharma or Big Tech, some congressional aides joke that the debate has awakened “Big Sleep”: concerted resistance from sleep doctors and researchers who issued advocacy letters that warned against permanent daylight time, traveled to Capitol Hill to pitch lawmakers on permanent standard time instead and significantly ramped up their lobbying spending, according to a review of federal disclosures.

For example, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, or AASM – which in recent years has focused its advocacy on issues such as improving the treatment of sleep apnea – this year included a new priority in its federal filing: lobbying lawmakers on the Senate Sun Protection Act and “Issues that has to do with seasonal time changes.”

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AASM also nearly 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.

The debate over time to spend during the day has raised the concern of the medical academy about sleep, an official insists.

“When the Sunshine Protection Act was passed by the Senate last spring, we determined that advocacy for the establishment of 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 met with the offices of dozens of legislators to advocate for a permanent standard time. “This is an issue that is relevant to everyone,” he wrote.

This is also a problem that resonates abroad. Mexican lawmakers passed a law last month to end daylight savings time in most of the country, a measure that the nation’s president quickly signed into law.

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

Josh Barro, a political commentator who has repeatedly argued for preserving the current system, said that no permanent daylight saving or permanent standard time makes sense.

“I think we have a system that we have for good reason … we have several hours of daylight in a day and that will vary depending on the axial tilt of the earth. And we need a way to manage that so that we wake up shortly after sunset on most days ,” said Barro. “It’s really the government solving the problem of coordination.”

Beth Ann Malow, a neurologist and sleep medicine researcher at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, insists she continues to favor permanent standard time, a position she testified at a congressional hearing earlier this year. But even Malow said the United States may need a compromise — moving the clock forward by 30 minutes, then keeping it that way permanently.

“I know that permanent standard time and permanent daylight saving time people are going to be disappointed because they’re not getting what they want, and we’re going to be out of sync with other countries,” Malow said. “But it’s a way to stop going back and forth.”

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