Beacon Hill agrees to mindbending look at time zone change

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STATE HOUSE — Embedded in the $1 billion economic development bill Gov. Charlie Baker signed Wednesday was a measure that could affect when morning begins in Massachusetts.

Under the law, a bipartisan commission would spend some of the fall and winter studying the impacts of permanently shifting Bay State clocks onto eastern daylight time. The panel of lawmakers and executive branch officials must look at impacts of a time zone alteration on local and regional economies, education, public health, transportation, energy consumption, commerce and trade.

While Baker agreed to the measure and said the administration would study the issue, he said Thursday that he favors the status quo.

“I think the time zones we have are fine and they’ve been fine for a very long time. This was particularly important to some folks in the Senate that there be a legislative committee put together to study it and in deference to the Senate’s interest in doing that we signed that, but my view is the current structure we have is fine,” Baker told reporters on Thursday. He said, “I especially worry that if we head too far down this road we could end up creating a lot of problems for ourselves with respect to all sorts of issues around work schedules, commuting schedules and a whole bunch of other things.”

Currently, Massachusetts shifts onto eastern daylight time each year from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November, according to the state. The rest of the year, as the sun slinks below the horizon, the state reverts to its usual eastern standard time, which is one hour behind eastern daylight. The clock rollback makes sunrise and sunset arrive earlier in the day.

In 2014, Tom Emswiler wrote in the Boston Globe that Massachusetts should “defect” from its time zone, joining eastern Canada, the Caribbean and parts of South America on Atlantic Standard Time, another name for eastern daylight time, keeping clocks set to their current March-November marks year-round.

Such a move would be a departure for the state of 6.7 million residents. All of New England is in the eastern standard time zone, which stretches as far west as parts of Indiana and Michigan. According to the U.S. Navy, portions of Arizona, which sits on the western edge of its time zone, do not observe daylight savings, and neither does Hawaii.

Sen. Joan Lovely, a Salem Democrat, said she wonders how a change might affect airline travel and is concerned that it might exacerbate the “real problem” of children walking to school in the pre-dawn hours.

“The only concern I have is kids going to school in the dark,” Lovely told the News Service. She said, “In Salem the high school kids start at 7:03.”

Rep. Elizabeth Poirer, a North Attleborough Republican and the House second assistant minority leader, said she is interested in hearing from the business community and others on the proposal.

“I am in favor of doing a study,” Poirier told the News Service.

Poirier’s colleague believes attention could be best spent elsewhere.

“I don’t think it’s something that we really need to put a lot of energy into at this point. I think we have bigger fish to fry to be honest with you,” Rep. Brad Hill, an Ipswich Republican and House assistant minority leader told the News Service.

The change to be contemplated by the study commission would put Massachusetts four hours behind England’s Greenwich Mean Time year-round.

The study commission was baked into the Senate Ways and Means Committee’s version of the jobs bill and survived a House-Senate conference committee before securing the governor’s approval. Sen. Karen Spilka chairs the Senate committee.

The commission would be tasked with studying the “practical, economic, fiscal and health related impacts of the commonwealth remaining on eastern daylight time . . . throughout the calendar year.”

Tasked with holding its first meeting no later than Oct. 1, when the days grow shorter, the commission will need to file its report and recommendations by March 31, as the sun climbs higher in the sky.

The 11-member commission would include three gubernatorial appointees and eight appointees from House and Senate leaders.

— Written by Andy Metzger

Copyright State House News Service