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Front Page - Friday, April 1, 2022

Rogers column: Senate makes wrong move in trying to lock clocks

News that the U.S. Senate had passed a bill that could establish permanent daylight saving time took me quite by surprise.

What’s more, and even more surprising, it passed unanimously. This despite the fact that red and blue senators can’t be relied on to agree on what day it is, much less what time it ought to be.

So do they, really, agree on what to do about our clocks? And what about the members of the House? Are they on board for universal DST? I’ll get back to all that.

The Senate action has particular application for Tennessee, because three years ago the General Assembly passed a law allowing for year-round daylight time should Congress make that possible.

Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville, sponsor of the Senate version of the legislation, told fellow senators, “This bill is wildly popular among our constituents throughout the state.”

“It’s about time,” he concluded, in one of those double-meaning statements that pass for legislative wit.

I don’t know if Dickerson, who lost his reelection bid in 2020, was right about the popularity or the urgency. But the Senate approved the bill 29 to 1, after the House had passed it 86 to 5, with five members present but not voting.

Maybe those five considered it pointless, agreeing with Einstein that time is but “a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Or maybe they were dozing.

Now that the U.S. Senate has gotten us sort of halfway down the road, it’s worth considering whether permanent daylight time is a good idea.

Those of us who have made enough trips around the sun will recall that the United States tried it before during the perceived energy crisis of the 1970s.

The rationale was that more daylight hours in the evening would lead to less energy use.

A couple of things happened: People discovered they hated getting up in the pitch dark during the winter, and it didn’t really cut energy consumption. So it was repealed after a year.

As for that unanimous Senate vote last month on what is called the Sunshine Protection Act – is sunshine threatened? – it’s not as compelling as it might seem. From what I read, a certain amount of bipartisan chicanery might have been involved.

Writing in The Washington Post, the columnist Dana Milbank said that a number of senators – including the Republican and the Democratic whips – didn’t even know the issue was coming up that day. The sponsor, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, took to the mic and asked for unanimous consent to basically fast-track a bill that hadn’t even gotten approval in committee.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat (when it suits her) presiding that day, asked for objections, then quickly gaveled the proceedings done. “Yes!” she exclaimed, clearly pleased. It all took 14 seconds.

“Rubio and Sinema had pulled a fast one,” Milbank wrote.

Sinema, by the way, represents a state that, apart from the Navajo reservation therein, doesn’t even observe daylight saving time. So I’m a bit puzzled why she would advance a bill that could help make it year-round.

Then again, Sinema and her fellow nominally Democratic colleague, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia seem to enjoy charting their own curious political paths.

Don’t expect the Senate shenanigans to be repeated in the House, though. Nobody appears to be in a rush to address the issue, and members profess the need to gather more information while focusing on the rather pressing issue of Ukraine.

Among those testifying at a recent House subcommittee hearing on daylight time was Dr. Beth Malow, a neurologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and director of the Vanderbilt Sleep Division.

Malow said daylight time “is like living in the wrong time zone for almost eight months out of the year.” Having spent 20 years in the Eastern time zone and never quite adjusting to it – my theory is that it cost me an hour of sleep every night – I can appreciate that.’’

It would be better for everyone’s health if we stopped changing back and forth each year, Malow said, but the answer should be to stay on standard time permanently.

“It’s called standard time because ST lines up with our natural, biological rhythms,” she added.

I find myself leaning toward permanent standard time, but I’d be fine with anything that stops the annual spring forward/fall back routine. At my age, I don’t have much spring left in me. And any fall sounds perilous.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com