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News / Northwest

Oregon permanent standard time bill survives after Senate splits

State will ditch daylight saving time only if Washington, California do the same

By JULIA SHUMWAY, Oregon Capital Chronicle
Published: February 21, 2024, 3:03pm

An effort to switch Oregon to permanent standard time will live to see another day after hitting a temporary roadblock on Tuesday when the state Senate split evenly on the bill.

It takes 16 “yes” votes to pass a bill in the 30-member Senate, and Sen. Kim Thatcher’s Senate Bill 1548 had just 15 senators on board when it first came up for a vote on Tuesday. That set the Keizer Republican and other supporters on a mission to change a colleague’s mind or find a compromise in the minutes before the Senate adjourned for the day and dashed all hopes for ending the twice-annual clock change.

Several hushed, intense conversations later, Thatcher and Sen. Elizabeth Steiner, D-Portland, had a solution: Instead of trying to have Oregon lead the way on switching to standard time and hoping other West Coast states would catch up, supporters agreed to amend the bill to add a trigger clause clarifying that Oregon would only ditch daylight saving time if and when Washington and California do the same.

Thatcher told the Capital Chronicle she came prepared with a motion to reconsider the bill if it failed because many of her colleagues hadn’t made up their minds. Three of the senators who unanimously voted it out of a committee last week ended up voting against the bill on the floor.

“I did not know where it was gonna land,” she said. “I tried to get that intel and it was just that nobody knew where they were.”

For Thatcher, who five years ago pushed a bill to switch to permanent daylight time, it was a clear choice. There isn’t the same momentum around moving to daylight time as there seemed to be in 2019, and permanent daylight time would require an act of Congress while states can move to standard time on their own.

An effort stalled in Washington this year, but bills are alive in California and Idaho, where a bill was introduced late last week.

“We can ditch the switch for real this time,” Thatcher said.

A broad-ranging debate in the Oregon Senate covered religious freedom, interstate commutes, health concerns, school start times and Arizona. The majority of the opponents – 12 of the 15 – are Democrats, but so are co-sponsors Steiner, Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego and Sen. Deb Patterson, D-Salem.

Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, represents a vast section of eastern Oregon including Malheur County, which is on Mountain time and would have ended up two hours ahead of the rest of Oregon if the bill passed as drafted. Findley supported it.

But Sen. Bill Hansell, the Athena Republican who represents northeast Oregon, had the same concerns as Sen. Michael Dembrow, a Democrat who represents north Portland. Hansell said his constituents, many of whom do business in Washington and go to Walla Walla, Washington, for services that aren’t available in smaller eastern Oregon cities, want to make sure they stay in the same zone as Washington.

Dembrow sees the same issue on a larger scale in Portland, where thousands of people commute between Portland and Vancouver or southwest Washington each day.

“What that means is that for two-thirds of the year, Portland will be an hour different from Vancouver and southwest Washington,” he said. “All of those people – there are thousands of people who live in southwest Washington and commute to Oregon, or vice versa, are going to have to change their watches twice every day.”

Public health, religious concerns

Steiner said switching to permanent standard time takes a stand for public health and religious freedom. Steiner is Jewish, and her religion includes morning prayers that can’t be recited until after sunrise. Permanent daylight time would make it all but impossible for Jewish people to congregate and say prayers in the morning, she said.

Steiner’s also a doctor, and she noted that medical research indicates changing clocks is bad for mental and physical health. She urged senators to move forward with adopting year-round standard time, saying Oregon could lead the way.

“​​Once we’ve done it and we’ve demonstrated the benefits and we’ve demonstrated our commitment to this, I think we’ll see Washington and California and a lot of other states picking up the mantle sooner,” Steiner said.

Most states observe daylight saving time, but Hawaii and most of Arizona are on standard time year round. Indiana didn’t start observing the twice-yearly time change until 2006.

Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, reminded colleagues that they heard a lot about Arizona while discussing economic development and the semiconductor industry last year.

“If I recall correctly, I think that economic horsepower state beating us out for economic development is the state of Arizona, and they’re on standard time,” Boquist said. “Let’s be like Arizona. Let’s get more economic development, let’s get more people moving here. I don’t know if this helps, but it sure didn’t hurt in Arizona.”

Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin, D-Corvallis, said switching to standard time might make more sense in southern states that don’t see the same swings in daylight hours. Portland is dark for nearly 16 hours a day in December, while the sun is out for more than 15 hours in peak summer. Her constituents and her brother have strong feelings about ending the annual switch, which Gelser Blouin said her brother calls “abuse of clocks.”

Gelser Blouin said she understands arguments for keeping standard time for students who need to get to school safely. The sun has been rising earlier and earlier for the past few weeks, and by March 9, the last day before daylight saving time begins, it’ll rise around 6:30 a.m. The following Monday, the sun won’t rise until 7:30 a.m. But Gelser Blouin said the real problem to fix is early school start times.

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“With apologies to my brother, my no vote will once again support ‘abuse of clocks,’” she said.

Oregon Capital Chronicle focuses on deep and useful reporting on Oregon state government, politics and policy. We help readers understand how those in government are using their power, what’s happening to taxpayer dollars, and how citizens can stake a bigger role in big decisions.