Delegate continues fight against seasonal clock changes
‘I’d say the chances this year are about 50-50.’
The sun sets over the James River in Richmond. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
No more falling back or springing forward, if Del. Nick Freitas, R- Culpeper, has his way.
The lawmaker has filed legislation to put an end to daylight saving time in Virginia. The change would eliminate the annual practice of setting clocks forward one hour on the second Sunday of March, and then moving clocks back one hour on the first Sunday in November.
Instead, Virginia would stay on Eastern Standard Time, which is the clock we are currently on.
“There’s actually a lot of practical reasons to do it, it’s not just kind of a fun thing,” Freitas said on Monday. “I know people see that and are kind of intrigued as to why would you attack an issue like that. But it does have a lot of effects, especially for our students, for drivers, so that’s the reason why we submitted it.”
Freitas said his bill would eliminate the challenges that come with setting the clocks back an hour in the fall and then ahead in the spring. He said research has shown standard time is preferable, but he is less concerned with which clock lawmakers settle on and cares more about picking one and sticking with it.
“Obviously when you are shifting people’s schedules, I think everybody has had that moment of, ‘Oh my gosh the kids are late for the bus,’ or ‘I’m late for work,’” he said.
Freitas filed a similar bill in 2018. It died quickly in the House rules committee, in part because of the chaos that such a change could produce if surrounding jurisdictions did not adopt similar changes. A 4 p.m. meeting in DC would be a 5 p.m. meeting across in Arlington for half the year, so Freitas tweaked his 2018 bill to include a provision that Virginia would only shift if surrounding states and DC did as well.
This year, Freitas said it is always an option for lawmakers to make the bill contingent on neighboring states’ passing similar measures, but said that “as of right now I am hoping that Virginia will just lead the way.”
Del. Joe McNamara, R-Salem, is taking up the issue as well. He has filed a resolution asking Secretary of Commerce Caren Merrick to conduct a study evaluating the impact of shifting toward year-round daylight saving time, which would make the clock that is now in place during summer months into the all-time clock.
While McNamara agrees with Freitas that changing the clocks twice a year is disruptive, he is hoping his resolution leads the state to permanently turn the clocks forward one hour and go onto DST for good.
“It’s good for tourism, it’s good for mental health,” McNamara said. “The benefits of daylight saving time have been clearly articulated.”
McNamara filed a similar resolution last year, but former Gov. Ralph Northam’s cabinet declined to pursue the study, McNamara said.
Daylight savings time has been a hot topic in statehouses across the country. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, since 2015 there have been at least 350 bills or resolutions that would change a state’s observance of the annual clock switching.
In 2018, Florida became the first state to adopt significant DST reform, with lawmakers passing a bill that would keep Florida on DST permanently.
However, federal law does not allow year-round DST, so Florida and other 18 states that have passed similar measures must wait for Congress to allow the “Spring Forward” clock setting to become permanent.
McNamara is hopeful that Virginia could become the next state to establish year-round DST, which could nudge Congress to lift the prohibition on states following permanent DST.
Freitas’ proposal differs from the vast majority of other bills that have passed in other states because his legislation makes standard time permanent, rather than shifting to permanent DST. “Standard time” refers to the clock between November and March, when daylight saving is not in effect.
When lawmakers talk changes to daylight saving, affected industries tend to weigh in.
Business Insider credited the candy industry with successfully lobbying Congress to push back the end of DST by one week, from the last Sunday in October to the first Sunday of November beginning in 2007. The move ensured that children would have more hours of daylight for trick-or-treating.
Big Candy isn’t the only industry in the daylight saving fight. On the other side of the argument, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine issued a position statement in 2020, calling for the elimination of daylight saving time.
The academy said “an abundance of accumulated evidence” showed that switching the clocks twice a year “incurs significant public health and safety risks, including increased risk of adverse cardiovascular events, mood disorders and motor vehicle crashes.” The sleep doctors said that DST, with late sunsets and long summer evenings, was “less aligned with human circadian biology.”
Freitas said he hasn’t gotten any pushback from outside industries. He is cautiously optimistic that this could be the year for changes to DST. And he isn’t spoiling for a fight over year-round DST versus year-round standard time.
“I do know there is bipartisan support on both sides of the aisle for this type of policy,” he said. “I’d say the chances this year are about 50-50.”
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