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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Editorials

In Our View: Oregon lawmakers avoid time warp

The Columbian
Published: March 6, 2024, 6:03am

To the benefit of Clark County residents, Oregon lawmakers have seen the light.

The Legislature in that state has approved a bill to eliminate the biennial changing of the clocks. If the legislation is signed by Gov. Tina Kotek, Oregon will remain on standard time year-round — but only if Washington and California do the same.

That is a lot of “ifs” — and the situation has been confusing. But the outcome avoids the avalanche of confusion that could have ensued.

Initially, Oregon lawmakers appeared poised to unilaterally adopt year-round standard time. That would have placed the state in a different time zone from Washington for half the year. As The Columbian wrote editorially last month: “For the roughly 65,000 Clark County residents who work in Oregon, a 9 a.m. starting time would be 10 a.m. our time from March to November. For the remainder of local residents, altered TV schedules, concert times and dinner reservations on the other side of the river could be perplexing.”

While residents mildly complain about having clocks change two times a year, the initial proposal would have presented real problems. As one Oregon lawmaker pointed out, people who cross the Columbia River and then return would have to “change their watches two times a day.”

The bill approved in Oregon would avoid that issue, but for now it remains in limbo. Which brings us to Washington’s role in a controversy that has been needlessly complicated.

In 2019, the Washington Legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill approving permanent daylight saving time in the state. But in a quirk of federal law, permanent daylight saving time requires an act of Congress; permanent standard time does not.

Congress has considered legislation in recent years that would allow states to remain on daylight saving time, but the bills have drawn little attention. Because of that, the Washington law (and similar laws in dozens of states) has not been enacted.

This year, a bill in Washington to adopt permanent standard time, um, er, ran out of time. And a similar effort in California appears stalled.

The situation is preferable to what prevailed in the United States some 150 years ago. Back then, the time of day could be different not from time zone to time zone, but from town to town. As the website for Union Pacific railroad explains: “This timekeeping method resulted in the creation of more than 300 local time zones across the country — not to mention disparity in local time depending on your location. So, for example, while it could be 12:09 p.m. in New York, it could also be 12:17 p.m. in Chicago.”

As railroads became more essential for commerce and travel, consistency was needed. The industry pushed for the creation of the four time zones that are still in use in the continental U.S., and by 1918, Congress was ready to adopt the Standard Time Act.

Daylight saving time, which has been adopted intermittently since then, has further complicated matters. So, many states in recent years have sought to eliminate springing forward and falling back.

Of course, the act of changing clocks is not a burden; most clocks these days automatically adjust. But there is evidence that a time change has some negative health impacts, which provides a good excuse for eschewing the practice.

Overall, it is a small concern that could have become a big one if Washington and Oregon were in different time zones. And it leads to some pertinent advice: Don’t forget to change your clocks Sunday.