Is clock ticking on time changes? Congress could trigger Utah law for year-round daylight saving time

Standard time could see its sunset in Utah and other Western states as a pair of bipartisan bills in Congress seek to let states make daylight saving time permanent, giving residents more evening sunlight year-round.

“Nobody wants to reset their clocks twice a year. This is an unpopular, outdated practice that does nothing but confuse our schedules. It’s time the federal government let the states decide,” Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said Wednesday in a statement provided to the Deseret News.

Stewart is sponsoring the Daylight Act, would allow states to stay on daylight saving time permanently if they choose.

Meanwhile, the Sunshine Protection Act — sponsored for the third year in a row by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., along with several other Democratic and Republican senators — would make daylight saving time permanent in most states, which currently have standard time for four months after the clock “falls back” in November and daylight saving time for eight months after “spring forward” in March.

Numerous studies have linked changing the clocks twice a year to issues like heart problems, depression, negative effects on sleep and car crashes. An Australian study even found a link to an increase in the suicide rate. Other studies point to something called “microsleeps,” also referred to as “zoning out.”

Daylight saving time will begin Sunday at 2 a.m., a change that will add an extra hour of evening daylight to the longest days of the year. Clocks will then return to standard time Nov. 7.

Rubio has sponsored his legislation since Florida passed the same law in 2018, and like Utah, which passed a law last year to not change times, needs federal action to implement it.

“The call to end the antiquated practice of clock changing is gaining momentum throughout the nation,” Rubio said in the statement. 

“Studies have shown many benefits of a year-round daylight saving time, which is why the Florida Legislature voted to make it permanent in 2018. I’m proud to reintroduce this bipartisan bill to make daylight saving time permanent, and give our nation’s families more stability throughout the year,” he said.

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Fifteen states have recently passed similar laws. In 2020, the Utah Legislature approved SB59, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, that will make daylight saving time permanent should Congress and at least four Western states do so as well.

Although states can “ditch the switch” to stay on standard time throughout the year, as Arizona and Hawaii have done, they can’t move to a permanent daylight saving time schedule without action by Congress. That system, originally set up to save fuel during World War I and World War II, has been modified over the years by Washington politicians.

Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, California and Washington have all passed bills to remain on daylight saving time, and New Mexico is considering the change — meaning the Beehive State just awaits approval from the federal government before putting its bill into action.

Harper said he’s met with legislators from other Western states, and most are eager to make the change except for those in Arizona, where they wish to remain on standard time.

The state senator said he believes Congress will likely move on the issue this year and that “one of the two (bills) will have a really good likelihood of passing.”

“This is an issue that has been debated for decades. There’s a long, long history of this, of countries wanting to have more light in the evening, not just the United States but other countries,” Harper said.

He recalled listening to arguments about time changes as a child. Since he was first elected to the state Legislature in the late 1990s, “it’s been one of the hottest topics, most continually discussed topic. People want to stop switching clocks, and the vast majority of people want more light in the evening with the daylight saving time year-round,” Harper said.

Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, has advocated for an end to changing the clocks since she sponsored a resolution passed on the final day of the 2019 session supporting a bill in Congress introduced in July 2018 by U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, calling for states to have the power to decide whether to continue the spring forward and fall back routine.

But even as states have worked to stop changing the clock, congressional movement on the issue has ticked slowly.

“Something that’s been difficult for me to understand is the non-movement or apparent disinterest on this issue from our congressional delegation and actually Congress in general, not because I think it’s the most important issue out there, but it is an issue that’s important to so many Americans,” Judkins said Wednesday.

When the state Legislature considers any bill addressing daylight saving time, Judkins noted that it gets more attention than most. She still gets emails about past bills.

“So I hope that Congress will take a really good, hard look at it this time,” Judkins said.

“The data is there that people, that Americans are tired of switching the clocks. But not just that, it’s better for our health, it’s better for business, it’s just better for a lot of reasons,” according to the representative.

While raising her seven kids, Judkins recalled that some of them had issues that made changing their schedules along with the time change difficult. While she once saw a potential switch to standard time-only as a possible solution to give school kids more sunlight in the morning, she now simply wants the clock to stop changing.

Some people with disabilities, as well as those who take certain medications, can face difficulties when the time changes.

Should daylight saving time become permanent, Judkins hopes the state will consider giving school districts more flexibility in how they structure their hours of attendance so that high schoolers and elementary students won’t have to get up quite so early, as studies have proven they need more sleep.

“I feel like we can make it work. We have made it work in the past. We can make it work whichever way it goes, but the health benefits are so much better,” Judkins said.

But Judkins acknowledged the issue can be contentious — some people like the way Utah falls back and springs forward, some would prefer remaining on standard time, and some would like to keep the sun out as long into the evening as possible.

If leaders chose, federal law does allow the state to stay on standard time, but Judkins noted most don’t seem to favor that idea.

“And so if our only choices are stay on daylight saving time year-round or quit changing the clock, I have felt — and this is not a scientific study — but as I looked at my emails, more people who wrote, ‘Just stop changing the clock. That’s what I want,’” Judkins said.