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Committee OKs bill paving way to put daylight saving time question on ballot

FILE — House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, addresses legislators in the House of Representatives on the first day of the Utah Legislature at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016.
FILE — House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, addresses legislators in the House of Representatives on the first day of the Utah Legislature at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah voters may get the chance to weigh in on whether they want to stop springing forward and falling back.

A House committee Friday gave a favorable recommendation to HB78, a bill to establish the process for elections officials to place nonbinding opinion questions on the ballot for voters to consider.

The committee did not vote on HJR2, a resolution sponsored by Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, that calls for a statewide opinion question to be placed on the ballot in 2018 on whether Utah should be exempt from daylight saving time.

However, much of the discussion in the House Government Operations Committee meeting about HB78, also sponsored by Thurston, centered on taking the issue of daylight saving time to voters.

"We have considered daylight saving time many times," Thurston said.

He cited a 2014 survey conducted by the Governor's Office of Economic Development that showed nearly 67 percent of respondents favored year-round Mountain Standard Time, while only 15 percent preferred keeping the biannual clock adjustments.

"Why aren't we making a change? Why aren't we responding to the voting public?" Thurston asked his fellow lawmakers. "One argument was … we don't like the way GOED conducted the study. By making an issue a nonbinding referendum, essentially we're doing the study of all studies."

Thurston said lawmakers would know once and for all how most Utahns feel about daylight saving time so they could finally make a decision.

The discussion attracted both supporters and opponents of keeping Utah on Mountain Standard Time, matching Arizona's clocks.

Thurston said he would like Utah to do away with daylight saving time, citing research that shows clock adjustments twice a year can have an impact on sleep schedules, decreased workplace performance, and increased health and behavioral problems.

"The medical community has looked at this and have figured out that the artificial social construct of trying to tell yourself to wake up and go to sleep at a different time — whether it's in the spring or fall — fights against your body's natural rhythm," he said.

Emily Wagner, a mother of a child with epilepsy, urged lawmakers to allow the question to go before voters, saying she has "cursed" daylight saving time every time the clocks change and impact her daughter's medication schedule.

"When we have to extend (her) medication out an extra hour, she has 10 additional seizures that hour," Wagner said. "Changing clocks does make a huge difference in our lives. … We're tired of special interest groups deciding what happens to our families and our children. We want it on the ballot. Let us decide and then listen to us."

But Craig Peterson, of the Utah Golf Alliance, and Sterling Brown, of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, both argued against keeping a Mountain Standard Time schedule, saying the extra hour of daylight in the summer is crucial for their industries.

"One hour determines whether somebody in the golf industry can leave work at 5 o'clock and get 18 holes in in the summer," Peterson said.

Brown said farmers often work an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in addition to their farming duties and rely on an extra hour of light to get their farm chores done. He pointed out that farmers represent less than 1 percent of Utah's population, so their interests would be lost with a vote.

Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, voted in support of the bill.

"There's probably no request I get more frequently in my inbox (than): 'Could you pease stop us from having to change our clocks twice a year? It's patently ridiculous,'" Daw said.

Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, voted against it the bill, saying a nonbinding opinion "seemed like a waste of time."

HB78 advanced to the full House with an 8-1 vote.