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The fight for daylight: Why Florida lawmakers are leading the charge to change federal law

Posted: 10:42 AM, Mar 27, 2019
Updated: 2019-03-29 16:34:15-04
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Changing our clocks forward in March, then backward again in November is something all Americans begrudgingly do twice a year. This summer that all could change.

Florida lawmakers are working to lock the clock, citing many reasons that the 101-year-old practice is out of date, out of touch and needs to stop.

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Sunshine Protection Act

U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rick Scott (R-FL) and U.S. Representative Vern Buchanan (R-FL) reintroduced the Sunshine Protection Act of 2019, legislation that would make Daylight Saving Time (DST) permanent across the country.

In 2018, Florida legislators overwhelmingly voted in favor of making the Sunshine Protection Act state law.

Despite the overwhelming approval, the law doesn’t mean a thing. The only power individual states have is to opt out of daylight-saving time. That’s what Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands do.

“There’s 30 other states, I think, that are discussing it or debating it now,” Buchanan said.

ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska sat down with Buchanan to talk about the nationwide momentum growing to lock the clock.

“We surveyed it just this weekend our self with about 20,000 people in the area, about 80 percent they’d like to get it done so we don’t have to fall back ever again,” Buchanan said. “Tourism, that extra hour makes a big difference for people accessing the beaches, going to dinner, getting dark at 5:30 p.m. is one thing. But, getting back that extra hour would make a big difference, and that’s when our tourists are here.”

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Darker mornings, brighter nights

One casualty of permanent Daylight Saving Time is more darkness in the morning. Opponents of the bill say it creates an unnecessary safety concern for kids at the school bus stop.

“People say, ‘I don’t want my kindergartner walking home in the dark,’ well now you are going to drop them off at a bus stop, and it’s going to be dark in the morning,” Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson said.

Robinson said his city is in a unique position. Most of Florida is in the Eastern time zone, but parts of the Panhandle, including Pensacola, are in the Central time zone.

“We sit very close, probably 15 miles from the Alabama border to our West about 40 miles to the Alabama border to our North,” Robinson said. “We do share a labor market. A Florida centric model could be just as devastating to us, but we also talked about a model where the whole country goes daylight saving.”

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Health impacts

Doctors say losing one hour of sleep throws off our circadian rhythm causing numerous health problems.

A University of Michigan Medicine study found interrupted sleep may lead to heart attacks. The study found heart attacks jump 25 percent on Monday after Daylight Saving Time.

“There are studies that can link impact for weeks after Daylight Saving Time in terms of school performance, learning, ability to do well on testing and things,” Dr. John Prpich a Pediatric Pulmonologist at St. Joseph's Children’s Hospital said.

Prpich said some children are sometimes diagnosed with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when they are suffering from lack of sleep.

“So if you are not getting enough sleep, if you are over tried it’s very common these children will have a hard time in terms of focusing, paying attention, and it will mimic ADHD symptoms,” Prpich said.

Traffic crashes

“If you snooze, you lose,” Sgt. Steve Gaskins with the Florida Highway Patrol said.

Gaskins said traffic crashes increase in March when we set the clocks forward. Studies cited by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimate that 6,000 to 8,000 people die each year from drowsy driving traffic crashes. Not all of those can be attributed to changing the clocks. But, the number is high enough for law enforcement to be on high alert.

“With the time change that we have with Daylight Savings Time, that can be a challenge as well for those who investigate traffic crashes cause now you have upset people’s normal cycles a little bit,” Gaskins said.

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Why Daylight Saving Time?

“Yeah, get rid of it. We complain about it all the time,” Stephanie Blum said.

Blum is visiting Florida from Indianapolis. “I don’t really know that I understood why they did it in the first place.”

Congress implemented the practice 101 years ago. In March of 1918, during World War I, it was intended as a wartime measure to redirect the use of coal-powered energy to the military instead of for people to light their homes at night.

Florida time the better time?

Florida legislators make that argument that a later sunrise will make tourists visiting the state happier. Later sunsets mean more people out enjoying dinner and spending money because they have more time to enjoy all the outdoor activities our state has to offer.

“I just want it light in the morning light at night like here in Florida,” Barbara Otto said. Otto is visiting Florida from Chicago. On the Winter Solstice, Otto said it gets dark around 4 p.m. She says changing the clocks won’t give them more daylight than Florida. She worries if her state doesn’t fall back, her granddaughter will be going to school in the dark.

“I don’t like that,” Otto said.

The legislation awaits a possible vote in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Buchanan said that could happen as soon as August.

On Tuesday, the European Parliament voted 410 to 192 in favor of operating on a single time on Tuesday. A Parliament report in favor of ending the practice of adjusting clocks twice a year stated that studies link it to cardiovascular disease and weakened immune systems because they interrupt biological clocks, Reuters reported.