OKLAHOMA CITY —A growing number of lawmakers think it’s time for a change, but they remain divided on whether Oklahomans should be able to have an extra hour of shuteye or a later sunset.
The clock, meanwhile, is ticking on a trio of separate bills that propose permanently eliminating the time change that comes with daylight saving time or keeping it in place for good.
After years of legislative gridlock, state Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, said he now plans to file a bill that would ask voters to decide if they want to continue adjusting their clocks twice a year.
He said most of the people he’s talked to agree that they are tired of setting their clocks forward and backward, but remain divided on whether they want to permanently set them ahead or back an hour.
West has already filed one bill seeking to eliminate daylight saving time completely, which would keep Oklahoma on fall time — better known as standard time — year-round. While it made it out of committee, the bill hasn’t gotten a hearing before the full House because it’s a divisive issue among his colleagues, West said.
“Some people would say there are health benefits to staying on standard time,” he said, noting that when people adjust their clocks forward, they lose an hour of sleep. He said studies have shown a correlated increase in motor vehicle accidents.
West said under federal law, states don’t need congressional approval to opt out of daylight saving time. But, no state can eliminate standard time without an act of Congress. He said even though other states have sought permission to eliminate standard time and remain on daylight saving time, Congress has not yet approved any request.
West said Arizona and parts of Indiana remain on standard time year-round.
State Sen. Blake “Cowboy” Stephens, R-Tahlequah, is organizing a legislative interim study on the issue.
He’s already filed a bill that seeks to leave daylight saving time in place permanently. Stephens said his plan has support from farmers and ranchers and some in the state’s business community.
“This is what I call my passion bill,” Stephens said. “If it takes me my full 12 years to get this across the finish line, I’m willing to put in the work. I’m willing to show why it makes sense for not just the farming and ranching communities, but for the state of Oklahoma, every citizen.”
Stephens said by allowing an extra hour of daylight in the evenings, Oklahomans would be able to go outdoors after work or school. Instead of getting dark in the winter at 5:15 p.m., it would remain light until 6:15 p.m. In the summer, the sun would rise 5:50 a.m. On standard time, it would rise around 4:50 a.m. and set an hour earlier than normal in the summer, he said.
“We cannot manufacture daylight, but what we can do is we can adjust our clocks where it makes the most sense productive-wise and mental health-wise,” he said.
Stephens, who has lived on a farm and ranch most of his life, said he does chores in the dark coming and going with a headlight on his head. The vast majority of farmers and ranchers he’s spoken with would rather do their chores in the evening.
He’s also considering filing a bill that would put his proposal before voters next year.
State Sen. Mary Boren, D-Norman, is also pressing forward with a bill that would retain daylight saving time permanently.
She said she became interested in the issue after her son, who received a degree in economics, told her about the economic and emotional impacts that come with switching time back and forth.
Boren said suicide rates, car wrecks and cases of cardiac arrest increase.
“I really thought a lot of families would benefit from having, especially in the fall, more light at the end of the school day instead of more light in the morning,” Boren said. She said a lot of activities happen after school.
Some legislators, though, have told her they’d prefer to wait to pass such legislation until neighboring states do it, she said.
“They’re nervous about us not being in sync with the Central Standard Time in the other states,” Boren said.
But Boren said that shouldn’t be a deterrent. Other states have their reasons why they set policies, and Oklahomans need to do what’s best for them, she said.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.