Clock runs out on efforts to make daylight saving time permanent

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

If some lawmakers had their way, it would mark the end of a tradition that has lasted more than a century. But a familiar story unrelated to congressional gridlock and a relentless lobbying campaign, this time from advocates some jokingly call “the big sleeper.”

The bill, which was supposed to be permanently “introduced,” has been stalled in Congress for more than seven months as lawmakers debate whether the Senate should pass the legislation at all. House officials say they’ve been inundated with divided opinions from constituents and warned by sleep experts who insist adopting permanent standard time instead would be healthier, and congressional leaders admit they simply don’t know what to do.

“We haven’t been able to reach a consensus on this in the House,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. said in a statement to The Washington Post. (DN. J.). “There’s a wide range of opinions on whether to keep the status quo, go permanent, and if so, when that should be.”

Pallone, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees time-change policy, also said he was wary of repeating an earlier congressional attempt to enact year-round daylight saving time nearly 50 years ago, which was quickly overturned by widespread reports on darker winter mornings resulted in more traffic accidents and a gloomier mood.

“We don’t want to make hasty changes and then undo them years later 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 the legislation will advance in the lame duck period that follows next week’s election, congressional aides said.

The bill’s quiet demise ends an unusual episode that briefly caught the attention of Congress, became fodder for late-night comics and fueled a water-cooler debate. The Senate’s unanimous vote in March to allow states to permanently shift clocks surprised some members of the chamber — and, contrary to traditional Washington dynamics, the House of Representatives slowed the Senate legislation.

Key senators who supported permanent daylight saving time say they are confused that their effort appears doomed and frustrated that they will likely have to start over in the next Congress. At least 19 states have passed laws or passed resolutions in recent years that would allow them to implement daylight saving time year-round — but only if Congress approves legislation to stop the state from changing the time twice a year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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“This is not a partisan or regional issue, it’s a common sense issue,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who co-sponsored the sun protection bill that passed the Senate in March, said in a statement. Senate staff noted that a bipartisan companion bill in the House, sponsored by 48 Republicans and Democrats, has been 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 of Representatives doesn’t want to pass this bill — they seem to be rarely in session — but I’m going to continue to work to get it done,” Rubio said, chiding his congressional colleagues.

The somber mood of Rubio and his colleagues this fall is a stark contrast to their sunny celebration when the Senate suddenly passed their bill two days after the “spring” clock was set, with still-sleepy lawmakers casting the campaign as common-sense reform.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook all the time 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 so they can enjoy the outdoors, to farmers who could took advantage of the extra daylight to work in the fields,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) said in a fundraising email sent in March.

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

Some senators told reporters they were surprised the bill passed through a parliamentary process known as unanimous consent, which eliminates the need for debate or an actual vote count if no senator opposes the measure, and wished there had been a more traditional series of hearings. and legislative surcharges. Sleep experts and neuroscientists have urgently warned that moving away from early morning sunlight would harm circadian rhythms, sleep-wake cycles, and overall health. Groups such as religious Jews have complained that moving the clock later in the winter prevents them from performing morning prayers after sunrise and still getting to work and school on time.

There are also regional differences in who would benefit most from permanent daylight saving time. Lawmakers in southern states like Florida argue it would increase sunlight for their residents during the winter months — but some people who live in the northern United States or on the western edge of time zones like Indianapolis would not see solar. east on some winter days until 9

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And in the House, lawmakers and staffers working on the issue pointed to surveys that show deep divisions in public opinion about how to move forward. While 64 percent of respondents to a YouGov poll in March 2022 said they wanted to stop clocks moving twice a year, only about half of people who wanted the change wanted permanent daylight saving time, while about one-third supported permanent standard time. others weren’t sure.

“We know that most Americans don’t want to keep moving the clock back and forth,” Schakowsky said in a statement to The Post, adding that she has received calls advocating for both sides. Proponents of permanent standard time don’t want children waiting for the school bus on dark winter mornings; Proponents of permanent daylight saving time want to help businesses get more sunshine during business hours, she said.

A congressional aide working on the issue put it more bluntly: “No matter what, we would have pissed off half the country,” said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations publicly.

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

Pallone and other lawmakers said they are waiting for the Department of Transportation, which helps enforce time zones, to review the effects of moving the clock permanently. While the transportation agency agreed to conduct the study in September, the deadline for that analysis — Dec. 31, 2023 — suggests the issue won’t be seriously considered in Congress until 2024.

And while the lobbying efforts of everyday change pale next to the tens of millions of dollars spent by advocates of so-called Big Pharma or Big Tech, some congressional aides joke that the debate has awakened the “big sleeper”: the concerted resistance of sleeping doctors and researchers who have issued advocacy letters warning against permanent daylight saving time, traveled to Capitol Hill to propose permanent standard time to lawmakers and significantly increased 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 on issues such as improving sleep apnea care — added a new priority to its federal roles this year: lobbying lawmakers on the Senate’s anti- the sun and “Difficulties related to changes in seasonal time.”

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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 once worked for Schakowski.

The daylight saving time debate has caught the attention of the Academy of Sleep Medicine, the official confirmed.

“When the Senate passed the Sunshine Act last spring, we realized that advocating for the establishment of permanent standard time must be an immediate priority,” Melissa Clark, AASM’s director of advocacy and outreach, wrote in an email.

Clark added that AASM has met with the offices of dozens of legislators to advocate for permanent standard time. “This is an issue that matters to everyone,” she wrote.

It is also an issue that resonates abroad. Mexican lawmakers last month passed legislation to end daylight saving time in most of their country, a measure that the country’s president quickly signed into law.

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

Josh Barro, a political commentator who has repeatedly argued for keeping the current system, said neither permanent daylight saving time nor permanent standard time makes 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 that will change based on the axial tilt of the earth. And we need a way to manage it so that most days we wake up shortly after sunrise,” Barro said. “The government is really solving the coordination problem.”

Beth Ann Malow, a neurologist and sleep medicine researcher at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, emphasized that she remains in favor of permanent standard time, as she testified at a congressional hearing earlier this year. But even Malow says the United States may end up needing a compromise — moving the clock back 30 minutes and staying that way forever.

“I know that people with permanent standard time and people with permanent daylight saving time are going to be disappointed that they didn’t get what they wanted and we’re not going to be in sync with other countries,” Malow said. “But it’s a way to stop going back and forth.”

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