Daylight saving time debate — Washington should solve this one

Published: Wednesday, June 25 2014 11:56 a.m. MDT

Utah lawmakers might as well change the state song to, "Does anybody really know what time it is?"

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As anyone who has been married awhile will attest, it’s best not to debate important decisions when you are tired and cranky. So it makes sense, then, for Utah lawmakers to hold a hearing on daylight saving time now, when we’re all about as far from springing and falling, backward or forward, as we can be.

But, really, it’s not hard to predict what they will hear at a July 10 forum on the subject at the Clark Planetarium and at a rural summit in Cedar City in August.

Just about everyone hates to experience jet lag twice a year without leaving their own beds, so most people will want the state to choose one time or the other and stick with it. But making that choice will divide just about everyone.

City people will prefer to keep daylight saving time, while rural people will want to keep standard time. Business people will worry about being out of step with the people with whom they trade, parents will worry about sending children off to school in the dark, golfers will rave about longer nights and police will talk about how change leads to accidents.

And if lawmakers opt to put themselves in sync with Arizona, or if they compromise and choose something a half hour between, they can, while they’re at it, change the state song to Chicago’s, “Does anybody really know what time it is?”

Or we could join Arizona and persuade Idaho to go along, creating a north-to-south corridor that could become a time zone unto itself. Call it the stubborn time zone. We could even officially change the year to, say, 1954, just to confirm what much of the country thinks about us already.

If you know me, you know I believe there are precious few things Washington can do better than the states. This, however, is one of them. Here’s why:

Utah isn’t the only state fuming over time changes. If even a few of them decide to change, scheduling conference calls could become complicated in a hurry. Earlier this year, Kentucky lawmakers were considering a bill to exempt the entire state from daylight saving time. The problem is that half the state is in the Central time zone, while the other half is in the Eastern time zone. By standing still, half of Kentucky would find itself effectively in the Mountain time zone much of the year.

Believe it or not, we’ve all been here before. The past 50 years or so have been a rare moment of peace on the sundial. The first time change came during World War I as an energy-saving measure. After the war, Congress repealed the new daylight time, President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the repeal, and Congress overrode him.

A farmer named L.J. Van Horne of Chula, Mo., summed things up in the Chicago Tribune in 1919: “Farmers where I live are disregarding the advanced time wherever they can. … When I start to market with my cattle, I set my watch up an hour, but when I get off the train and start back to my farm, I’ll set it back again.”

The lack of a federal standard had everyone wearing out the dials on their watches. Franklin Roosevelt brought back daylight saving time during World War II and kept it year-round. But after the war, Washington made it a local option, which was the worst of all options.

One famous stretch from Allentown, W.Va., to Steubenville, Ohio, a mere 35 miles, passed through seven different time zones. St. Paul and Minneapolis were on different times.

All of that changed, sort of, in 1966 when Congress passed a law that set the time when clocks would change and mandated that if any state wanted to go its own way, the entire state would have to do it together.

But now we see that if the states get angry enough, they can make a pretty good mess of things again.

We need Washington to set a time standard that doesn’t change.

But since things seem to be at a stalemate back there, I have a suggestion that ought to appeal to both parties. If you can’t do away with the time change, at least make it effective at 4 p.m. on a Monday, rather than at 2 a.m. on a Sunday.

Presto! A weary Monday afternoon in the spring turns into time to go home. Who could object to that?

Jay Evensen is the senior editorial columnist at the Deseret News. Email him at even@desnews.com. For more content, visit his website, jayevensen.com.

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