Daylight Saving Bill Triggers Time Zone Déjà Vu

Daylight fades over Lynn Canal north of Juneau, Alaska, date unknown. (copyright Skip Gray)
Daylight fades over Lynn Canal north of Juneau, Alaska, date unknown. (copyright Skip Gray)

A bill that would eliminate daylight saving time in Alaska is now one step away from the Senate floor. But as the legislation has advanced, it has also changed in a way that could divide the state — literally. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

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Time is a social construct. Its movement is the subject of perennial debate in science, and some physicists have gone so far as to call it an illusion.

That has not stopped Alaska lawmakers from trying to tinker with it.

“In order will be [Senate Bill] 6, the elimination of daylight saving time,” opened bill sponsor Anna MacKinnon, when presenting the legislation to the Senate Finance Committee.

MacKinnon, a Republican state senator from Eagle River, points to negative health effects and the loss of productivity that come from adjusting clocks twice a year. The bill would have Alaska join Arizona in exempting itself from daylight saving. In the winter, nothing would change when it comes to timing. But in the spring, when other states switch their clocks to get more evening light, Alaska would lag an extra hour. That would put it further behind the east coast.

“It would alternate between four and five under the current bill,” said MacKinnon.

That concept raised some hackles during public testimony on Tuesday morning, particularly from Southeast Alaska.

Pilots complained it would cut back the amount of flying time, since they would offer fewer evening flights. Dan Corson, of the Juneau-based Wings Airways, testified the change would hit them hard during tourist season.

“If this went into effect today, for this summer, we would lose up to 15 percent of business due to the loss of the one hour,” said Corson.

Stores that make money off of cruise ship passengers worried the change would mean less shopping time, while some testifiers said they simply did not like the potential loss of evening recreation time. Money managers, like Jim Parise with the Alaska Permanent Fund, feel the exemption would make it harder to do business with the rest of the country.

“If we are five hours away from New York, personally I will be going to bed around 7 o’clock,” said Parise.

While testimony skewed against the bill during the hearing, Sen. MacKinnon pointed to an online survey showing support for the elimination of daylight saving time. And Sen. Lyman Hoffman, a Bethel Democrat who caucuses with the majority, said communities in the western portion of the state could see their timing situation somewhat normalized by the bill.

“If you’ve ever been into Dutch Harbor-Unalaska, you are closer to Tokyo than Washington, DC,” said Hoffman. “There are other parts of the state that are going to see great benefit because of this legislation.”

Because of Alaska’s sprawling size and its distance from the contiguous United States, its place in time has been a regular source of disagreement. Until 1983, the state was split into four time zones, with Southeast on the same schedule as the West Coast and the Aleutians zoned with Hawaii. Now, Alaska is almost entirely in the same time zone, with only a few places — like Adak to the West and Metlakatla to the east — off of it.

With all the consternation about the loss of evening light in Southeast, the Senate Finance Committee added a provision that could allow Alaska to partially revert to that timezone map. Sen. MacKinnon explained the new version of the bill would allow the state to request a time zone change from the United States Department of Transportation to put all or part of Alaska in sync with the West Coast.

“We would petition the federal government to advance — at least some people have suggested — that we should advance to Pacific Time, but Alaska would stop flipping,” said MacKinnon.

That version of the bill advanced without opposition.

After discussing the nature of time, and how it affects Alaska, the Senate Finance Committee then continued on an agenda that felt pulled straight from a college dorm room: The next item was marijuana.