(The Center Square) – The winter sun sets early in New England, which for many commuters means several dreary months of trekking home in darkness.
Switching from Eastern to Atlantic Standard Time would give the region an extra hour of daylight in the evenings and put it in the same time zone as Nova Scotia – which supporters of the move have long argued would have myriad economic and social benefits.
In New Hampshire, state lawmakers are advancing a plan to shift the state an hour ahead and ditch the twice-a-year clock switching that comes with daylight saving time.
HB85 would move New Hampshire into Atlantic Standard time for the entire calendar year. The state House of Representatives approved the bipartisan measure on a 250-117 vote earlier this month, a veto-proof margin. The bill is currently before the state Senate Committee on Executive Departments and Administration, which held a hearing on the proposal last week.
"People really think this is a big issue, and there's been a lot of support for it," Rep. Josh Yokela, R-Fremont, the bill's main sponsor, told the panel. "If we pass this bill, it doesn't mean we will immediately be switching."
The proposal would hinge on approval of similar measures in Massachusetts and Maine, Yokela said. Otherwise, New Hampshire would be an outlier, which could disrupt commerce, trade, interstate transportation and broadcasting.
"We would not want to be in a different time zone than Massachusetts, because so much of our economy is tied to that state," Yokela said.
Massachusetts and Maine have looked at the issue over the years, but have not taken action to scrap daylight savings or move into a different time zone.
The Massachusetts Legislature, however, passed a bill in 2019 to accept daylight savings year-round if federal law permits and the rest of the Eastern Time Zone decides to make the switch.
Under the federal Uniform Time Act, states are allowed to decide whether to participate in daylight saving time, which sets clocks an hour back in fall and an hour forward in spring. Arizona and Hawaii are the only states that don’t participate.
There are four time zones stretching across the country from Alaska to Maine. If a state wants to shift into a different zone, it must get approval from Congress or the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Originally set in 1884, the time zones were intended to synchronize cross-country railroad transportation. Prior to that, cities established their own time zones. At one point, there were more than 300 such zones across the nation.
New Hampshire and other eastern states are technically on Atlantic time eight months out of the year, when clocks advance for daylight saving time.
Supporters cite myriad potential benefits of extended daylight in the evenings. More people would stay out later to shop and eat. It would reduce crime, boost job productivity and encourage more physical activity, the report noted.
But skeptics say the change would mean the sun rises later in the morning, posing dangers for children walking to school. It could also affect economic activity with neighboring states if they remain on Eastern Standard time.
Sen. Sue Prentiss, D-West Lebanon, said she is concerned that the changes would cause more disruption for industries that operate in a time sensitive environment.
"I think this could create more confusion," she said during the recent public hearing on the bill. "If it were done in one fell swoop, for the entire country, that would be one thing."
Another critic, Rep. Sallie Fellows, D-Holderness, argues that the changes would create public safety hazards for people who would have to go to school or work in the dark.
"This extended morning darkness poses a real safety threat for both school children and commuters," she said. "Children, particularly in rural areas, will be walking to the bus stop at least two hours before sunrise. Where there are no sidewalks, they will be standing in the road. This is not safe."