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VOL. 43 | NO. 10 | Friday, March 8, 2019

Time to explore ending ‘ridiculous’ spring, fall time change

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A few years ago, I arrived at church one bright Sunday morning just in time to see everyone else walking out. A moment of confusion followed. Had the early-bird service been moved to 7 a.m. without my knowledge?

Then came the realization: I had forgotten to spring forward.

That realization was accompanied by a very unchurch-like word.

And here we are again, as this weekend brings the official start of daylight saving time for most of the country. If you’re like me, you’ll spend the next few weeks trying to adjust to that extra hour of sunshine every evening (or, quite possibly, extra hour of visible rain).

Plus, I spend a fair amount of brain capacity at any given moment mentally subtracting an hour to figure out what time it really is.

It’s all a harsh trick foisted upon our circadian rhythms by federal government decree, exceeded in cruelty only by the occasion later in the year when we “fall back,” and night seems suddenly to arrive at 4 p.m.

But there might be hope. Eventually.

A Tennessee legislator, Rep. Rick Tillis, has introduced a bill that would do away with the twice-yearly discombobulations by making daylight saving time permanent in Tennessee.

One more spring forward, then no fall back.

“It’s just a ridiculous practice that serves no purpose at all,” he says of the temporal back-and-forth.

Tillis explained he first proposed the change in 2017, prompted by a constituent who had asked him to look into the issue. So, he started doing some research.

“I discovered there’s a lot of health issues related to the changing of clocks,” he says.

A couple of examples of that sort of thing:

A 2011 University of Alabama-Birmingham study showed a 10 percent increase in heart attacks on the Monday and Tuesday after springing forward.

And a 2016 study in Finland showed an 8 percent greater risk of strokes on the same two days.

Shorthand summary: It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.

But among the potential snags of implementing his proposal, Tillis added, is the fact that Tennessee shares a border with eight other states.

“If we’re the only one that does it, it could cause problems crossing state lines,” he says. “What I’m hoping is, this starts a domino effect.”

As it happens, a number of other states already have passed measures similar to Tillis’s, or are considering doing so. Florida was the first, its legislature approving the bill by lopsided margins last year. It was signed by Rick Scott, then the governor.

All systems go, right?

No.

A bit of history here. Daylight Time started nationally in this country during World War I and returned in World War II. (One rationale has been that it could save energy by making more use of daylight hours with less need for electric lighting, a claim that hasn’t proved particularly accurate.) After that, some places used it and some didn’t, which created considerable confusion.

The Uniform Time Act of 1966 promised to end that confusion, setting national requirements for what is also sometimes known as summertime.

One provision of the federal law is that states can opt out of daylight time, and Hawaii and Arizona (except for a Native American reservation) did just that.

Opting out – staying always on standard time – is not a viable alternative, particularly for Middle and West Tennessee, Tillis said.

“You’d still have sunset at 4:30 in the wintertime, and sunrise at 4:30 in the morning in the summer,” he pointed out.

Federal law does not, however, allow states to make daylight time permanent.

So, Tillis’s measure – and those like it – are contingent on changing that law to allow states to do what some of them clearly want to. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida introduced legislation last year to make the change, but it died at the end of that session of Congress.

Another possibility not yet on the table would be simply to move one of the lines establishing time zones, Tillis said. As it is, the divide plays havoc with Indiana, with northwest and southwest portions in the Central zone and everywhere else in Eastern. Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida each have split Eastern/Central zones, as well.

“Everything east of the Mississippi River should be in the Eastern time zone,” Tillis says.

That would appear to make sense, which pretty much ensures it will never happen.

Besides, as I’ve noted before, I don’t think you’d ever get Mississippi to agree to be in the same time zone as New York City.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville.

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