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Utah Legislative effort for a permanent ‘spring ahead’ falls short — for now

SHARE Utah Legislative effort for a permanent ‘spring ahead’ falls short — for now

SALT LAKE CITY — While it took scientists almost 100 years to prove Einstein's theory that the Earth is surrounded by a space-time vortex, the Utah Legislature's efforts to alter the state's much simpler time rules have been orbiting in a seemingly perpetual vortex of their own, and it's not clear if the decadeslong journey will finally find a destination anytime soon.

Before a Senate legislative committee hearing Tuesday to consider the latest time-change proposal, SCR5, co-sponsor Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, said there's plenty of evidence to support rethinking the twice-yearly ritual of setting clocks.

"My biggest issues have been the negative impacts on public health, safety and the economy," Thurston said. "A lot of people don't realize how significant that clock-changing is. There are a lot of studies out there that have shown how it leads to an increase in heart attacks, auto accidents, time off work, messes with people's sleep cycles and impacts the economy."

That rationale not withstanding, members of the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee roundly rejected SRC5 Tuesday afternoon.

Daylight Saving Time

Daylight Saving Time

Heather Tuttle

The lead sponsor of the bill, Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, was looking to move Utah into the Central Standard Time zone, a proposal that would have had the effect of putting the state on a permanent Mountain Daylight Time clock.

Harper told the committee the move would first require action by Congress to amend the federal Uniform Time Act of 1966 to allow Utah to make the move to Central time and refrain from any subsequent changes of the clock.

In spite of the committee's cold-shoulder treatment, Harper said he doesn't consider the bill dead, and he plans to work to get it further consideration during this legislative session.

"This is part of the process, and I believe a couple people may not have understood the resolution," he said. "We’ll take some time for further education and continue the conversation."

Utah lawmakers have engaged in efforts to rework the state's clock machinations going back to at least 1990, Harper said. And since then, no fewer than 14 legislative proposals have attempted to alter the time rules, but to no avail.

The U.S. Department of Transportation oversees federal time regulations and notes on its website that daylight saving time reduces crime, saves lives and saves energy.

"During daylight saving time, the sun sets one hour later in the evenings, so the need to use electricity for household lighting and appliances is reduced," the U.S. DOT site reads. "People tend to spend more time outside in the evenings during daylight saving time, which reduces the need to use electricity in the home."

In a statement to the Deseret News, a Rocky Mountain Power spokeswoman said energy consumption rates tend to follow consumer habits and environmental conditions more than the relative times of sunrises and sunsets.

"Temperature has a much greater influence on energy demand than daylight," the statement read. "Keeping the lights off an extra hour may save a small amount of energy. However, heating and cooling functions in homes, as well as the use of large appliances, have the largest impact on energy use."

Salt Lake community activist George Chapman told the committee he opposes the proposal because he believes it would undermine the state's regional influence.

"I consider Utah to be a leader in the West," Chapman said. "By passing something like this and getting us out of sync with surrounding states, we lose our leadership influence."

Sterling Brown, vice president for public policy for the Utah Farm Bureau, testified that bureau members have been well-informed over the years on the relative pros and cons of the various time change policy proposals, and the consensus among the 18,000-plus Utah farmers and ranchers was to stand pat.

"The Farm Bureau has adopted the policy of Mountain daylight saving time and changing the clock two times a year," Brown said. "We would have to oppose the resolution."

Back in 2014, the Governor's Office of Economic Development collected data assessing how Utahns felt about various time change options. The work captured more than 27,000 responses, and the clear preference among that group was to stay on Mountain Standard Time without clock changes, or fall back permanently — an option adopted by Arizona in 1968.

Harper said there's plenty of evidence in Utah, and elsewhere, that making changes to clock-changing policy is still worth perusing.

"In 2016, 13 states introduced legislation to change time zones. … In 2017, 18 states did so," he said. "If you've got 18 other states working to address this issue, it's a hot topic. We'll be having more dialogue on this."