The Senate on Daylight Saving: Wow! We Passed a Bill!

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The U.S. Senate has been called “the world’s slowest deliberative body,” but it can be roused into quick and decisive action when a truly earth-shaking crisis erupts, such as the one the nation now faces with regard to… daylight saving time?

In a unanimous voice vote on March 15, the Senate approved a bill, re-introduced only a week earlier, to make daylight saving permanent. If approved also by the House, the bill would go into effect in November 2023. Then, instead of recovering the hour of sleep that we lose with the onset of DST in March, Americans would just let that hour disappear, forever. Like so many others that go by in a flash while we puzzle over the New York Times Spelling Bee, for instance.

Long-time Post Alley readers may recall the arguments against permanent DST as detailed here and here. There’s the fact that other countries have tried and abandoned it, as the U.S. did in the early 1970s. In each instance, public opinion quickly soured with the arrival of pitch-black winter mornings, especially in northern latitudes (such as Washington state) and on the west side of time zones (such as western Washington), where sunrise was most delayed.

Currently, U.S. public opinion is divided, providing no clear mandate for permanent DST. But scientific evidence and opinion have lined up solidly against DST in winter. There are reasons to think it would be disastrous for our biorhythms, with the potential to spread insomnia, seasonal depression, and a host of other ills. Oddly, the Senate voted to plunge ahead anyway just as the science was beginning to gain wider attention.

It was Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the Sunshine State, who originally proposed the Sunshine Protection Act three years ago. (If you’re wondering how a clock change protects sunshine, you just don’t understand how this game is played.) Rubio surprised many with his legislative hat trick that at last brought the bill up for a vote.

Washington’s Sen. Patty Murray, a co-sponsor, has been an outspoken advocate for year-round DST since the Washington legislature expressed a preference for it in 2019. Murray was quick to celebrate the passage of “my legislation.”

Another cheerleader was Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who happened to be presiding over the chamber when Rubio asked for and received unanimous consent for his bill. “Yes!” Sen. Sinema reportedly exclaimed, flashing a big smile and clenching both her fists in triumph. Which is a little odd, insofar as Arizona is exempt from Rubio’s bill. Arizona and Hawaii do not observe daylight saving, and the bill allows them to continue on standard time.

Like Sinema, late-night TV hosts were—or pretended to be—wowed by the Senate’s uncharacteristically swift and united action on DST. “I’m especially proud to be an American today,” said Jimmy Kimmel. Jimmy Fallon jibed, “Today everyone in the Senate was like, ‘What happens now? We’ve never passed a bill before — this is weird.’”

Maybe senators felt a special need right now to counter their well-earned reputation for fecklessness, a need to demonstrate unity and decisiveness, a need brought on by their helplessness in the face of Russian aggression and Ukraine’s suffering. The pressure to do something is powerful, and permanent DST is, well, a thing. An absurdly irrelevant one, but infinitely easier than avoiding World War III.

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Barry is best known as a Peabody Award-winning TV producer and moderator.

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