State lawmakers push bills to unwind spring forward, fall back ritual

By: - March 12, 2021 4:00 am

The twice-a-year changing of the clocks could be a thing of the past in Georgia if one of two bills in the state Legislature becomes law. Getty Images

This story was updated at 5 p.m. Friday. 

If you feel out of sorts next week, you won’t be alone.

People across Georgia will likely feel groggy and mixed up after setting their clocks to jump forward an hour for daylight saving time on Sunday, but the biannual time change is more than just an annoyance for some, says Woodstock Republican state Rep. Wes Cantrell.

Research has shown increases in fatal accidents and pedestrians struck by cars after time changes. Teachers complain of students coming to class tired, heart attack rates spike, and so do workplace injuries.

“And by the way, the worst day to go to court is the Monday after spring forward,” Cantrell said. “Research shows that judges hand out the harshest penalties, the harshest sentences on the Monday after spring forward. The evidence is clear. We need to get rid of time change.”

Cantrell sponsored a bill to do just that by switching Georgia to permanent daylight saving time. It passed the state House 112 to 48 last week. Another bill eliminating the time change passed the state Senate in February, but the bills have fundamental differences in dealing with federal restrictions.

Federal law requires approval from Congress for states to switch to permanent daylight saving time, but not to permanent standard time.

Cantrell said he has reached out to Sen. Raphael Warnock and Rep. Sanford Bishop about sponsoring legislation to allow perpetual daylight savings. If Cantrell’s bill becomes law, Georgia could make the switch upon congressional approval.

Cantrell, who has pushed for similar legislation in the past, said he is hopeful the idea will gain more momentum this year because of similar efforts in neighboring states. Warnock and Bishop’s offices did not respond to requests for comment, but Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and a bipartisan group of senators filed a bill to move the entire country to daylight saving time.

The Georgia Senate bill, sponsored by Savannah Republican Sen. Ben Watson, would instead switch Georgia to permanent standard time when daylight saving time ends in November and then switch to daylight saving time whenever Congress allows.

“Waiting on Congress may be an eternity,” Watson said from the Senate floor in February. “That’s my personal thought.” 

Watson added that he could support simply waiting for congressional approval rather than switching to standard time in November.

“That may be what we end up doing as it goes across to the House, or it may end up with a referendum. I’m not Pollyannish to think that this is the end-all-be-all.”

The lawmakers have the right idea, said professor H. Elliott Albers, a neuroscientist at Georgia State University who performs research on circadian rhythm, the process in the brain that regulates when you feel tired or alert.

If you’ve ever experienced jetlag after flying across time zones, you know what it feels like when your circadian rhythm goes out of whack, Albers said. Time switches are the same phenomenon on a smaller scale. They are easier for your brain to correct, but they can still lead to problems.

Albers supports eliminating the time switch. From a scientific perspective, either permanent daylight saving or permanent standard time would be preferable to making the switch twice a year, he said, but lawmakers need to consider the pros and cons of either side.

“As long as they’re constant, either one would avoid the need for the clock to shift, so that would be beneficial from that point of view,” he said. “Now, there’s arguments that can be made for what’s better, daylight saving time or standard time, in terms of how much light you see per day.”

Democratic state Rep. Josh McLaurin of Sandy Springs said he would regretfully side with the Senate’s bill because it would lead to more sunlight in the morning on average.

“Circadian rhythm scientists have indicated that getting light in the morning is important, and that can help overall with health,” he said. “Russia, maybe not the best example, and the United States also have tried permanent DST before, and it has led to such an unpopularity and backlash that they’ve switched back to standard time.”

On the other hand, permanent daylight saving time would mean the sun would shine later in the evening, allowing Georgians to spend more time outdoors after work, improving health for adults and giving children more time to play outside, lawmakers said.

Sen. Kim Jackson, a Democrat from Stone Mountain, questioned whether earlier sunsets could be bad for some businesses.

“Have you had conversations with the Chamber of Commerce in Savannah and other places about the fiscal impact that losing an hour in the evening would have on restaurants and concert venues that enjoy having that additional daylight time in the evenings to bring about tourists to come and visit,” she asked.

“This conversation has been out there for about two and a half years, but we’re really not changing the amount of daylight, so you’re not really losing any time on that,” Watson said.

Lawmakers pondered the effects either switch could have on children waiting on school buses in the morning, rush hour traffic and Georgia’s farmers, whose schedules often line up with the rising and setting of the sun.

Many farmers favor the switch, said Katie Duvall, advocacy and policy development coordinator for the Georgia Farm Bureau.

“We’ve got dairy cows who are following a milking schedule that is just natural, and they are not wearing watches,” she said.

Automated dairy operations often experience difficulties and technical glitches after a time change, she said. Other farmers say they appreciate later light to work in their fields or hold roadside markets or pick-your-own produce events in the evenings.

“We’ve got members with very strong positions on either side, but I think a lot of folks just want to see an end to the change, no matter which way it goes,” she said.

No changes will take place before this Sunday’s switch, of course, and Albers said the best advice for discombobulated Georgians is to get plenty of sun next week. The part of the brain responsible for circadian rhythm is directly connected with the eyes and responds to natural light.

“The light-dark cycle is really the key element in terms of resetting the clock, so if people are having problems with having a clock that’s out of sync with the environment, they should try to expose themselves to as much outdoor lighting as possible,” he said.

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Ross Williams
Ross Williams

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal.Williams' reporting took him from City Hall to homeless camps, from the offices of business executives to the living rooms of grieving parents. His work earned recognition from the Georgia Associated Press Media Editors and the Georgia Press Association, including beat reporting, business writing and non-deadline reporting. A native of Cobb County, Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Atlanta's Oglethorpe University and a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University.

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