Is permanent daylight saving time a good idea? Lobbyists, lawmakers and sleep experts are split. • OpenSecrets

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) stops to talk to reporters as he arrives in the Capitol from the Senate subway on Wednesday, January 25, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Most Americans will set their clocks one hour forward on Sunday in observance of daylight saving time. But the Sunshine Protection Act of 2023, a Senate bill reintroduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) last week, seeks to end the “antiquated practice” of changing clocks twice a year by making daylight saving time permanent.

“Locking the clock has overwhelming bipartisan and popular support. This Congress, I hope that we can finally get this done,” Rubio said in a statement issued by his office. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), who introduced a companion bill in the House, contends permanent daylight saving time would produce “enormous health and economic benefits.”

Daylight saving time has been in place since the 1960s, although it was temporarily implemented by Congress during both World War I and World War II to save fuel for the fight. In 1973, Congress passed a bill to make daylight saving time permanent for two years, in part to conserve energy. Not only did permanent daylight saving time not save energy, but people were not happy with the “jet black” darkness in the winter mornings, the Washingtonian reported. Congress repealed the law before the end of the two-year experiment.

But today, the movement to stop changing clocks twice a year is gaining momentum. At the state level, lawmakers in at least 30 states have introduced legislation to end the biannual ritual since 2015. Hawaii, most of Arizona and five U.S. territories do not observe the time change, and the Sunshine Protection Act would permit them to remain on permanent standard time — in other words, they won’t have to “spring forward” one hour to daylight saving time. Federal law permits states to opt out of daylight saving time, but they currently cannot adopt it year-round.

Supporters of the Sunshine Protection Act and permanent daylight saving time claim the switch could have numerous benefits to health, safety and the economy. The Los Angeles Times editorial board published a plea Wednesday to “end time-shift insanity!” and adopt permanent daylight saving time, citing several studies that suggest a connection between time change that can result in poor sleep and increased traffic accidents and heart attacks. 

A 2016 study by JPMorgan Chase also found a drop in productivity when Americans roll back their clocks and increased productivity in California during daylight saving time. The study also showed restaurants, retail stores and activity-based businesses have more business when there’s more light in the evenings. Business lobbying giants including the National Retail Federation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have advocated for permanent daylight saving time to boost the economy, Bloomberg reported.

But lobbyists for several prominent groups including the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Airlines for America that have lobbied against previous iterations of this legislation remain skeptical, citing health, economic and operational concerns. 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine spent $220,000 on federal lobbying in 2022, with the Sunshine Protection Act being the only bill listed in federal lobbying disclosures last year, although lobbyists also reported working on sleep apnea, school start times and Medicare/Medicaid payments. Airlines for America, on the other hand, spent $5.4 million on federal lobbying that covers a more robust portfolio.

Lobbyists push back on permanent daylight saving time

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine supports efforts to stop changing clocks twice a year, it advocates for legislation that would restore permanent standard time and opposes efforts to enact permanent daylight saving time. That means keeping the clocks rolled one hour back, which the organization argues best aligns with circadian rhythms, rather than one hour ahead.

Permanent daylight saving time disrupts the circadian rhythm and causes “social jet lag,” which is associated with an increased risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and depression, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. That runs directly contrary to claims made by Rubio’s office that permanent daylight saving time “reduces risk for cardiac issues, stroke and seasonal depression.”

The bill’s supporters also claim an end to daylight saving time would reduce energy usage, which did not happen when Congress made daylight saving time permanent in the 1970s, and reduce childhood obesity, which the American Academy of Sleep Medicine refutes.

“The issue is, there’s what we call short-term studies around daylight saving time, so look at the week before, maybe the month before and month after, daylight saving time. And so people like Rubio use data from some of these studies looking at what happens from the disruption itself but are ignoring the effects of what happens when you’re sort of in this permanent misalignment,” Dr. Karin Johnson told OpenSecrets in a phone interview. 

In addition to her role on the advocacy committee at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Johnson is the medical director for the Baystate Regional Sleep Medicine Program and vice chair for academic affairs with the Department of Neurology at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School-Baystate. She’s also vice president of Safe Standard Time, where she advocates for permanent standard time. 

“I believe [permanent standard time is] not only the best for my patients, but for people overall and especially teenagers and people that have to get up early,” Johnson said.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine isn’t the only sleep health organization with concerns. Permanent daylight saving time could exacerbate chronic effects of sleep loss, the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms warned in 2019, not only “because we have to go to work an hour earlier for an additional 5 months every year but also because body clocks are usually later in winter than in summer with reference to the sun clock.”

Airlines for America, a trade association that represents major North American airlines, also opposes changes to daylight saving time for operational and economic reasons. The trade association reported lobbying on previous iterations of the Sunshine Protection Act in 2019, 2020 and 2022. The trade association spent about $22.5 million on federal lobbying through the same period, with permanent daylight saving time a small part of a broader portfolio from transportation safety to appropriations to pilot mental health.

“Changes to existing Daylight Saving Time (DST) would have considerable implications for aviation, including passenger disruption, crew and aircraft positioning, and domestic and international connectivity issues,” Marli Collier, communications manager at Airlines for America, told OpenSecrets in a written statement. 

“Airlines operate expansive interconnected domestic and global networks that are reliant on stability and predictability,” Collier added. She warned that “abrupt adjustments” would disrupt both passenger and cargo airline schedules, thereby disrupting tourism and commerce.

Rubio’s press secretary Ansley Bradwell pointed out that last year’s bill included more than a year delay before permanent daylight saving time would begin. “When this bill moves, we will also include time for industry to prepare,” Bradwell told OpenSecrets in a written statement.

The National Association of Broadcasters previously expressed concerns about the impact on airtime for AM radio stations with licenses to operate during daylight hours, The Hill reported. The association also said certain radio stations may receive reduced signal after dark, which would also be impacted by a permanent end to daylight saving time. Lobbyists for the association reported lobbying on the bill every year since 2018.

The National Association of Broadcasters declined to comment for this piece.

Can the Sunshine Protection Act actually pass?

The Senate’s abrupt passage of the Sunshine Protection Act of 2021 in March 2022 took some lawmakers by surprise after 2018 and 2019 iterations of the bill failed to pass both the U.S. House and Senate.

While then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she was interested in the Sunshine Protection Act last March, she also said it was not a priority, particularly given the impetus to pass funding for Ukraine to counter the Russian invasion launched just weeks earlier. The House did not take up the bill before the end of the 117th Congress.

The Senate bill is backed by a bipartisan group including Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.). 

“With the Sunshine Protection Act, we can shine a light on the darkest days of the year and deliver more sun, more smiles, and brighter skies,” Markey said in a statement.

Should the 2023 version of the bill pass the Senate, it’s expected to stall once again in the House. Current House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has not made a statement on the bill since he took control of the chamber in January, but last year the then-minority leader said he does not think it’s a “good bill.”

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