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Zero hour could be approaching for daylight-saving time in California

A bill moving through the California legislature could push the clock back on daylight-saving time – indeed, push it all the way back to before the biannual time-shifting policy took hold in California with the passage of a voter-approved proposition in 1949.

Authored by Assemblyman Kansen Chu (D-San Jose), the bill passed a key Senate committee on Monday. If approved by two-thirds of both houses of the state legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the question of whether Californians will see the sun set permanently on daylight-saving time would go to a vote of the people.

The Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee passed the measure by a 9-2 vote, sending it to the Senate’s Appropriations Committee for its next test. If the bill eventually passes the Senate on a floor vote, it will move over to the Assembly.

Under the bill’s provisions, the voters would have the choice of retaining the current policy of setting clocks forward an hour in March and falling back an hour in November, or remaining in standard time year-round.

Chu's legislative aide, Robert Mason, told AMI Newswire Wednesday that in the decades since DST was adopted in the state, “the makeup of California’s energy usage patterns has become more complicated given the increased ubiquity of air conditioning and electronic devices, to name a few factors.”

Mason added: “As a result, data show that any energy savings resulting from DST is negligible at best. Data from other states show similar results.”

A press release from Chu’s office argued that the twice-a-year time change also puts undue pressures on people’s lives, especially children and the elderly.

“California should be leading this change,” Chu said in a prepared statement. “I cannot believe that anybody would like to do this fall backward, spring forward thing twice a year.”

One Californian who likes the seasonal rhythms generated by the time change is Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount). Rendon said during a meeting with journalists at the Sacramento Bee that the longer nights seem fitting during the Christmas holiday, and in summer, California residents enjoy heading to evening baseball games while it’s still light.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” Rendon said. “What’s wrong with variety? Why can’t we have both?”

But Mason said that the Assemblyman’s constituents seem to think the bill’s time has come.

“The responses we’ve received have been overwhelmingly positive,” he said, adding that Chu’s main reason for authoring the bill was not to eliminate DST but to put the issue before voters to decide if the policy is worth keeping.

Some studies have pointed to serious health effects resulting from the time changes. Researchers from the University of Turku in Finland earlier this year reported that the risk for strokes rises after the clock adjustment in the spring.

They found that, in Finland, occurrences of ischemic stroke – the most common kind – jumped 8 percent in the first 48 hours after the transition to daylight-saving time. For those over 65, the risk during the two days rose by 20 percent, the study concluded.

After two days, however, the risk fell back toward the normal range.

The American College of Cardiology reported two years ago that a 25 percent increase in heart attacks in the United States took place the Monday after the nation “sprang forward.” But that study also found that a similar decrease in heart attacks occurred the Tuesday after the fall time change.

On the positive side, the National Institutes of Health reported a correlation with daylight-saving time and fewer traffic fatalities among pedestrians and drivers and fewer robberies.

One reason daylight-saving time has been adopted worldwide is that it was thought to reduce energy consumption since more people would tend to be awake during the hours of daylight during summer. Research presented in a legislative analysis of Chu’s bill, however, found mixed conclusions on that score.

In 2007, the California Energy Commission looked into whether the extension of DST by four weeks affected daily electricity consumption. The agency found it had little to no effect on energy consumption.

A National Bureau of Economic Research study on Indiana’s energy use concluded that residential electricity demand rose about 1 percent as a result of following daylight-saving time, resulting in increased pollution as well.

Still, the California legislature’s analysis of the bill found that other studies pointed to some energy savings in regions with temperate climates, such as California, as a result of DST. The extra daylight during summer evenings also has the potential to benefit tourism and retail sales, the analysis found.

But Chu himself says it’s time for the voters to sort out the future of the policy. “Daylight-saving time is an institution that has been in place largely without question for more than half a century,” he said. “I think we owe it to the general public to be given the opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not it ought to be continued.”