You’ve no doubt heard about the Senate’s vote last week on the “Sunshine Protection Act.” This extraordinary bit of bipartisanship would make daylight savings time (DST) permanent beginning in 2023.
After that, we’d no longer “fall back.” One more “spring forward”—and there we’ll stay. Forever sprung.
And that’s a good thing? Maybe not.
I’d love to celebrate such a coming together of this august body. (Fellow blogger Joseph Urban, aka “The Old Liberal,” wrote a wise and witty post placing such action in context.)
I really don’t want to add to the turned-off by politics sentiment that fuels voter apathy—especially when the stakes are so high for the November, 2022, election. And in fact, the majority party, ie, the Democrats, has been quite successful in getting things done since Biden’s inauguration.
But this Senatorial fiasco is, quite frankly, one for the books.
Thus, I feel it’s my patriotic duty to throw a little sunshine on The Sunshine Protection Act—a name that sounds more suitable for legislation advancing solar energy, or perhaps a Federal program for disseminating free sunscreen.
The bill was promoted “by supporters advocating brighter afternoons and more economic activity,” Reuters reported. The change is intended to “help enable children to play outdoors later and reduce seasonal depression, according to supporters.”
One of the bill’s co-sponsors is Senator Marco Rubio (R,-Fla), who’s been saying plenty of stupid stuff lately. Noting that there was a lot of agreement on the bill, he said, “If we can get this passed, we don’t have to do this stupidity anymore. Pardon the pun, but this is an idea whose time has come.”
And the opposition? That well-known child safety group, the National Association of Convenience Stores, warned that “we should not have kids going to school in the dark.”
More significantly, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine was concerned about the lack of discussion or debate. They state that the bill goes in the wrong direction: remaining on Standard time year-round is in sync with the body’s circadian rhythms, which react to light.
In terms of our body clocks, being full-time on Standard time is therefore “the best option for health.”
Circadian rhythms are no small thing. Think of an orchestra with hormonal, genetic, and enzymatic instruments playing in concert. Well-tuned, the result is melodic digestion, respiration, mood, sleep patterns, immune function, and other pleasing physical manifestations.
In contrast, an out-of-tune body clock can wreak havoc. For years, scientists have observed temporary upticks in car accidents around DST, as well as increased heart attacks and strokes. They attribute all this to “circadian misalignment,” a Buzzfeed article notes.
So it’s surprising, at best, that the Senate, which usually is agonizingly slow to debate and act, passed this bill by unanimous consent without any discussion at all.
The explanation is scary-simple: They didn’t know what they were doing.
It seems that “unanimous consent” is derived via a voice vote that bypasses all the committee action in which both good and bad Senate bills get hamstrung.
If just a single Senator objects to unanimous consent, it won’t go into effect.
Usually, there’s something called a “hotline” in which the Senator introducing the bill notifies each Senator’s staff so they can consider the request before a bill is presented.
This is a matter of Senatorial courtesy that remains intact—even in these unruly times. Who knew?
But if a bill is either insignificant or obviously dead on arrival, a Senator’s staff won’t bother to brief their bosses.
Apparently, a bunch of staffers didn’t think that this mere quibble over DST was worth troubling the folks we pay well to deliberate in an informed manner.
Senator Chris Coons (D,-Del.) told Buzzfeed that he was one of several Senators who asked if Rubio had notified all staff in advance and was informed that he had.
Coons was forthright:
“It’s literally an issue my staff and I had never discussed, and they made an assumption that I don’t really care about daylight savings time,” he said.
“And I don’t know if I do! I’ve never taken five minutes to stop and think about it.”
What happens next?
The bill goes to the House of Representatives, generally regarded as the less deliberative body. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr (D,-NJ), the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees policies concerning time changes, said it could be weeks or months before the bill is brought up.
He has requested a federal analysis about the impact of time changes on productivity, traffic, energy cost, and other issues. (Washington Post). Presumably, one of those issues is “circadian misalignment.”
So in a role reversal, the “People’s House” has proven to be the more deliberative body. (Though some House members wanted to join the rush and take up the bill immediately.)
It will undoubtedly prevent this bad bill from moving forward—while giving all 100 Senators plenty of time to wipe the egg off their faces.