(The Hill) – Time is running out for the House to pass legislation that would make daylight saving time permanent in the U.S., after the Senate shocked the nation earlier this year and unanimously approved the measure.
The bill, titled the Sunshine Protection Act, skated under the radar for months following Senate passage, but it is back in the spotlight this weekend as Americans “fall back” and change their clocks to standard time until March, taking an hour of daylight away from winter mornings.
Lawmakers have just 17 legislative days — the period known as the lame-duck session — remaining to pass the bill and send it to President Biden’s desk before the current Congress comes to a close, and both chambers are forced to reset the clock and reconsider the controversial change.
But the likelihood of lawmakers pushing the bill over the finish line in the final stretch is dimming.
“I wouldn’t expect it to happen this time,” Rep. Kewisi Mfume (D-Md.), who is in the process of becoming a co-sponsor of the bill, told The Hill. “My gut sense tells me that there are going to be a number of other things that happen, depending on which party dominates the election.”
The Senate sent shockwaves throughout the country in March when the chamber approved the Sunshine Protection Act by unanimous consent, a fast-track procedure that allows bills to pass if all members are on board and no objections are made. Buzzfeed News, however, reported that some Senators were surprised to learn that the measure had passed through the special process.
The legislation, which has bipartisan sponsorship in both chambers, would do away with the biannual changing of the clocks and make daylight saving time the law of the land all year round.
Under current regulations, the sun is scheduled to rise in New York at 7:16 a.m. on Dec. 21, the winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year. But under the Sunshine Protection Act, New Yorkers would see the sun rise at 8:16 a.m. that day.
The sunset would also be kicked back. Empire State residents are scheduled to see the sunset at 4:31 p.m. on Dec. 31. With the Sunshine Protection Act, however, sunset would be pushed back to 5:31 p.m.
Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of ditching the ritual of changing the clocks. A Monmouth University poll conducted in March found that 61 percent of respondents want to do away with the practice, while 31 percent are in favor of maintaining the status quo.
But there are disagreements about deciding what the law of the land should be: daylight saving time or standard time. That, in part, is holding the House back from advancing the Sunshine Protection Act.
“We haven’t been able to find consensus in the House on this yet,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, told The Hill in a statement.
“There are a broad variety of opinions about whether to keep the status quo, to move to a permanent time, and if so, what time that should be. These opinions don’t break down by party, but instead by region,” he added.
Forty-four percent of respondents in the Monmouth University poll said they would prefer year-round daylight saving time, compared to 13 percent who favor standard time.
“I have received calls from constituents who prefer permanent standard time because they have safety concerns for children who have to wait too long in the dark during winter for the school bus, and I have heard from constituents and businesses who prefer permanent daylight saving time because they prefer longer daylight hours,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who chairs the Energy and Commerce subcommittee that held a hearing on daylight saving time in February, told The Hill in a statement.
A congressional aide working on the issue told The Hill that there are “so many different interests” clocking in their opinions, making it more difficult to reach a consensus.
The Orthodox Jewish community, for example, “wants to make sure they’re able to get in their morning prayer and then still be able to get to work in reasonable time,” while some businesses “want to make sure that their customers can enjoy the evening hours in the daylight on a patio,” the aide, who requested anonymity to discuss the deliberations, said.
“So it’s really all different interests,” the aide added. “It’s everyday people sharing what their quality of life would be like depending on which way this ruling goes.”
“The Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over time, is continuing to review and solicit feedback from Americans and stakeholders about making daylight saving time permanent,” a spokesperson for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), the top Republican on the committee, told The Hill in a statement. “Leader Rodgers hopes that bipartisan work will continue.”
In the past half-decade, at least 19 states have passed legislation or approved resolutions that would make daylight saving time the norm all year round, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Those measures, however, cannot be enacted because federal law does not mandate permanent daylight saving time.
Hawaii and Arizona only observe standard time.
Last month, Mexico’s Senate voted to eliminate daylight saving time for the majority of the country, nixing the practice of changing the clocks twice a year. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is expected to sign the measure.
Pallone, however, is hesitant to make the hasty change, despite its national and international support and campaigns from the longtime lobbying effort — which is championed by business groups, including golf organizations. He pointed to the episode nearly 50 years ago when the U.S. temporarily took away daylight saving time.
“We don’t want to make a hasty change and then have it reversed several years later after public opinion turns against it — which is exactly what happened in the early 1970s,” the chairman said.
In 1974, former President Nixon signed a bill to make daylight saving time permanent for two years in an effort to combat the gas shortage. The move, however, was so disliked by the public that nine months later, former President Ford enacted legislation that restored the twice-a-year tradition.
Almost a half-century later, with the bill through one chamber, key lawmakers are advocating for the change to get another chance.
“We need a uniform approach, I think, in my opinion, which is why I support the bill to do away with it,” Mfume said.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, called ending the ritual of changing the clocks “a commonsense issue.”
“States all around the country are passing laws to make DST permanent, but Washington, D.C. needs to act. I don’t know why the House refuses to pass this bill — it seems like they are rarely in session — but I will keep pushing to make this a reality,” he added, making a dig at the other chamber.
Congressman Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a co-sponsor of the House bill, said the legislation is “low-hanging fruit for both sides.”
“I think it’s a popular bill and I hope in the lame-duck session [the] Speaker will bring it forward,” he added.
What the new status quo would become remains unknown. And key players are keenly aware that regardless of which decision the chamber makes, some individuals will be in store for a cranky wake-up call.
“Half the country is going to be upset no matter which way we go on this issue,” the aide said. “And so we’re really trying to reach a consensus, but I can tell you those talks are still ongoing as we speak right now.”
–Updated on Nov. 6 at 6:50 a.m.