Washington lawmakers went for year-round daylight saving without much consideration of history or science.
In 2019 when legislators voted to put Washington state on year-round daylight saving, they probably were unaware of DST’s long and surprisingly controversial history hereabouts, going back to World War I and including many local referendums and three hotly debated, statewide ballot initiatives. A total ban on DST passed statewide in 1952 with 60 percent of the vote.
In contrast, the process by which Washington has now signed up for permanent DST is a case study in how a bill with certain characteristics, even one that messes with our daily lives in fundamental ways, can fly through the legislature with almost no serious consideration.
Versions of the law enacted in 2019 were introduced in the House by Rep. Marcus Riccelli, a Democrat from Spokane, and in the Senate by Sen. Jim Honeyford, Republican from Yakima County. In previous sessions, Sen. Honeyford proposed other bills related to DST, including one to eliminate it. After this proved unpopular, he switched to the idea of making it permanent.
The idea drew broad support during the 2019 session, but it’s worth noting that both prime sponsors came from east of the Cascades. Especially for Rep. Riccelli’s constituents in Spokane, the circadian misalignment caused by year-round DST would be less severe than in Seattle, where sunrise comes later and also winter days are darker. Both cities see about the same hours of daylight through the year, but Spokane enjoys about 21 more hours of sunshine during winter months.
Hearings on the permanent DST bills were perfunctory, lasting an average of under eight minutes, the longest about 15 minutes. Testimony came almost exclusively from the two bill sponsors.
They urged their colleagues to show solidarity with other states considering similar legislation, so as to increase pressure on Congress. Momentum in Oregon and California seemed to spark lawmakers’ competitive spirit, while reassuring them they were on the right track. Sponsors touted benefits to health and safety from eliminating spring and fall time changes. In effect, they said extending DST would reduce bad stuff that happens more during DST.
Committee members asked few questions, some of them facetious. Rep. Drew MacEwan of Shelton formally offered an amendment, later withdrawn:
The time of the state of Washington east of the crest of the Cascade mountains is Pacific daylight time offset by plus fifteen minutes throughout the calendar year, as determined by reference to coordinated universal time, to ensure that the Cougs are always ahead. Go Cougs.
The only committee that heard from anyone other than the sponsors was a House panel where two citizens spoke in opposition to the bill. The more substantive testimony came from Seth Dawson, a former Snohomish County prosecuting attorney and more recently a lobbyist, who spoke on behalf of the Washington State Psychiatric Association. Dawson briefly reviewed the ill effects that psychiatrists and others believe are associated with DST, but he said he recognized the bill was destined to pass. He asked only that the legislature provide for a health impact study to be done after permanent DST goes into effect.
Legislators showed no interest in a study, which would have added cost to a bill that otherwise had no fiscal impact. They also rejected amendments that would have referred the measure to a vote of the people, for the purpose of demonstrating to Congress that Washingtonians really, really want year-round DST. Referendums cost money, lawmakers said, and voted down the amendments.
Maybe the bill would have attracted greater scrutiny if a price tag had been on it. Or if it had been opposed by powerful economic interests, more powerful than psychiatrists, at least. Or if action in other states had not triggered politicians’ herd instincts. Or if the whole thing were not moot unless Congress weighs in.
As it was, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 90-6 and the House by a vote of 46-2. Gov. Jay Inslee, who earlier said he was “remarkably agnostic on this issue,” signed it into law.