August 23, 2019
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Saving time for other debates

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
A crowd of early-risers gather near the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park to be among the first in the continental United States to see the sunrise near Bar Harbor, July 31, 2018.

Maine’s “Dirigo” motto evokes leadership and action, but when it comes to the debate over daylight saving time, the state should take a back seat.

Just one day after we lost an hour of sleep to the annual “spring forward” clock adjustment, the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee heard testimony Monday on two bills that would change Maine’s approach to daylight saving time.

One bill from Rep. Christopher Kessler, D-South Portland, would opt Maine out of daylight saving time and petition the U.S. Department of Transportation — which has jurisdiction over the country’s time zones — to move Maine ahead one hour from the Eastern time zone to the Atlantic time zone. The switch would make Maine the only state to operate on Atlantic time, joining Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and several Canadian provinces.

The other bill, from Rep. Donna Bailey, D-Saco, would require Maine “to observe so-called eastern daylight saving time year-round if the United States Congress authorizes states to do so,” according to its legislative summary. This would lock in daylight saving time here in Maine throughout the year while removing the need to change our clocks in March and November.

Both proposals would, practically speaking, isolate Maine from most of the eastern U.S.

[Trump says he’s OK with adopting daylight saving time year-round]

There are efforts underway in dozens of states to change how they approach daylight saving time. Arguments in favor of making it year-round and removing the two time changes include potential energy, productivity, health, transportation and retail benefits.

The issue has burned particularly bright in Florida, where the state Legislature has passed a bill similar to Bailey’s. Members of Florida’s congressional delegation, led by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, has also introduced the Sunshine Protection Act to nationally enshrine daylight saving time throughout the year. It’s an idea that President Donald Trump recently endorsed.

There may be some legitimate reasons for making daylight saving time year-round at the national level — and moving away from changing our clocks twice a year. But it makes little sense for Maine to lead on the issue by going it alone with Atlantic time or to pursuing the full-year daylight saving change without a guarantee that many other states will join.

Absent nearly uniform national action or similar moves across the East Coast (and not just from Florida), both proposals here in Maine run the unfortunate risk of making Maine an outlier, literally out of step with the times in other states — particularly with those in the Northeast.

Most states currently observe daylight saving time, which involves setting the clocks back an hour between November and March. Only a handful of states, including Hawaii and most of Arizona, opt out.

Maine already faces isolating challenges, such as our aging population, transportation infrastructure needs and relative lack of reliable internet service. Adding to that list by going our own way on Atlantic time or daylight saving time, and thus creating another barrier between Maine and other states and markets, would be a mistake for our economy.

[Opinion: Daylight saving time is just a plot to keep us confused]

While Bailey’s bill is rightly contingent on federal authorization for all states to observe daylight saving time year-round, it still goes too far in committing Maine to the change without guaranteeing that other states do the same.

If the federal government gives states the option to use daylight saving time throughout the year, Maine should then weigh the potential positives and negatives of the switch, including an assessment of how many other states will join. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Unless and until there’s definitive movement at the federal level — or from a significant amount of other states — these Maine-specific time change proposals should not see the light of day.


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