Want to have a great philosophical debate that will go round and round and round like the hands of a clock? Tell someone that “time is an artificial construct.” Want a louder debate? Then tell them you want to do away with Daylight Savings Time.
Setting the clock back, then forward is an American tradition practiced twice a year in 48 states and the District of Columbia for exactly one century. Despite its age and near ubiquity, daylight saving time has a lot of bleary-eyed haters. You can almost set a watch by their annual attempts to get rid of it.
Cue the legislation, Assembly Bill 807 by Kansen Chu, which passed the California legislature without debate last week. If signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, AB 807 would ask voters to repeal the Daylight Saving Time Act, meaning no more setting clocks forward by one hour every spring and back by an hour in the fall.
“If signed by the governor,” the San Jose Democrat said earlier this month, “the bill will bring California closer to abolishing the outdated practice of switching our clocks in the fall and spring.”
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Chu’s argument, as in 2016, when he last floated this legislation, is that daylight saving time reduces productivity and disrupts sleep, and doesn’t save as much energy as promised. One study found reductions of 1 percent in March and April, but other studies say it increases energy use because here in California we keep our air conditioning going full-blast later into the (artificially defined) evening. The jury’s out.
There’s also the much-discussed public health benefit of scrapping the practice. A 2012 study (mimicking a 1987 study from Sweden) showed a 10 percent increase in heart attacks the Mondays and Tuesdays following the shifts to DST and a similar decrease when we switch back. And if you still believe we use DST because farmers like it or that it improves traffic safety, tell that to your friend Bigfoot because all three are myths.
Simply debunking DST’s benefits isn’t a good enough reason to get rid of it, assuming Brown signs AB 807 and voters say it should go.
Refusing to synchronize our watches with the rest of the country – save Hawaii and Arizona – could be costly. In 2005, when Congress extended daylight saving time by a month, the Air Transport Association warned that keeping U.S. flights lined up with international travel schedules would cost $147 million.
Messing with the clocks also is bound to insert new headaches into everyone’s workday. In states that don’t have daylight saving time, coordinating deadlines and conference calls is a pain, especially for corporations with operations in multiple states. Every day, Californians would have to remind people across the country what time it is, as other states continue to fall back and spring forward but we don’t. Eight o’clock in California, 9 o’clock in Nevada, 8 o’clock in part of Kansas, 7 o’clock in another, and 6 o’clock in New York.
For these reasons, AB 807 is a waste of time. But it also promises to be a time suck for the Legislature.
The repeal promised by act would really be more of a replace. It would update the decades-old ballot measure to bring it into alignment with how the state currently handles the biannual clock change. And it would give the Legislature more sway over the practice.
To achieve Chu’s goal of killing daylight saving time, he would have to introduce another bill, which would have to clear the Assembly, then the Senate and then be signed by the governor. Some say it would need the approval of Congress, too.
Let this happen at the congressional level or not at all. It’s risky to spring forward without a fall-back position.