Rep. Donna Bailey wants Mainers to have an hour more of daylight on winter afternoons by getting rid of the twice-yearly time change and having Maine join the Atlantic Standard Time Zone year-round.

Her bill to do so passed the House by an 85-59 vote Thursday, but it still faces a Senate vote and the change would also have to be adopted in Massachusetts and New Hampshire to become law in Maine.

“Twice a year we change the clocks and I wondered, ‘Why do we keep doing this, and nobody ever had a good answer,’ ” said Bailey, a Saco Democrat.

If the bill does become law, Maine clocks would effectively be set to daylight saving time all year, and there would be no more “fall back” or “spring forward” time changes in November and March. Nova Scotia and portions of Canada are on Atlantic Standard Time, although they are on their own version of daylight saving time for eight months a year.

Currently, Maine, 16 other states and the District of Columbia are on Eastern Standard Time from early November to mid-March, and on Eastern Daylight Time the rest of the year. Because Maine is the nation’s easternmost state, the sun sets by 4 p.m. or earlier on the shortest winter days, when sunrise and sunset are about nine hours apart.

Being better aligned with sunrise and sunset is beneficial to health, bill proponents say, and studies show there’s more workplace and vehicular accidents, and heart attacks when the time changes.

“With all the negative consequences of changing our clocks, and the positives of staying on (daylight saving time) year round, one has to ask why do we keep doing it?” Bailey said during testimony before the State and Local Government Committee on Feb. 15.

Rep. Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, a co-sponsor of the bill, testified that being on Atlantic time would be a net benefit.

“The motivation for this initiative is more than just the annoyance some may have with the changing of their clocks,” she said. “It also is to address health benefits that an extra hour of usable daylight can provide. For many, this twice-yearly disruption causes anxiety compounded by disruption to one’s natural circadian rhythm. Reverting to Eastern Standard Time during the winter when we already have a lack of daylight hours also adds to the symptoms of those that suffer from seasonal affective disorder.”

GROWING REGIONAL SUPPORT

The New Hampshire House of Representatives has also approved switching that state to Atlantic time, while a Massachusetts commission is studying the issue. Rhode Island also has a bill pending.

A 2014 Boston Globe column by health care advocate Tom Emswiler of Quincy, Massachusetts, went viral, and many media outlets picked up on the issue. Emswiler said he has ridden momentum from the column to advocate for a commission to study the issue. Last year, the Massachusetts Legislature established a time zone commission, which includes Emswiler and seven others.

Emswiler said moving from the Washington, D.C. area to Massachusetts in 2011 spurred him to write the column, and he found compelling research that the New England states would enjoy improved health if they moved to Atlantic time.

“I was horrified to see the sun setting at 4:11 p.m.,” Emswiler told the Press Herald in a phone interview Thursday. “I didn’t find anyone who thought it was a good idea. I thought there has to be a better way.”

Emswiler said millions “are getting jet lag” when we change the clocks twice a year.

Even if Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts vote to join the Atlantic time zone, the changes would have to be approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Emswiler said a regional approach is more likely to be successful.

‘STRONG RESERVATIONS’ REMAIN

Dr. Judy Owens is a Massachusetts pediatrician and member of the Massachusetts panel studying the switch to Atlantic Standard Time. Owens said that if the time change occurs, it should be done in concert with moving middle and high school start times to no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

Several Maine schools, including Biddeford, Old Orchard Beach, South Portland and Thornton Academy, have adopted later high school start times to better align teens’ sleep patterns with the school schedule. The science indicates students have less absenteeism, are less prone to substance abuse, and have fewer car accidents when start times are later.

Owens said that while there may be many overall societal benefits to moving to Atlantic time, schools that don’t adopt later start times would force students to get to class before sunrise during the winter, which she feels could be bad for teen health.

In December, the sun would rise at about 8 a.m. in Maine on Atlantic Standard Time and set at around 5 p.m.

Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said a regional approach to switching time zones would be better than Maine going it alone, but there would still be potential downsides to being in a different time zone than many other Eastern states.

“It’s far more complex than meets the eye,” Connors said, explaining that many logistical problems, such as package deliveries, could be affected by having a different time zone than New York and Washington, D.C. “We’ve always had strong reservations about doing this.”

‘SAME AMOUNT OF TIME IN A DAY’

Mainers interviewed Thursday say they see little downside to changing to Atlantic Standard Time. They believe giving residents an extra hour of daylight in the winter for work or recreation would be healthy.

Dave Cousens of South Thomaston has been lobstering for 40 years. He doesn’t think a time change would have much impact on the state’s fishing industry. Fishermen go to work at all hours and if it’s dark for longer periods in the morning, they still need to put in a full day, he said.

“I don’t see it as having any implications. I don’t think it will matter because you have the same amount of time in a day,” Cousens said. “I think it’s a good idea. I’m sick of all that time change stuff.”

David Trahan, director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and an avid fishermen, duck hunter and deer hunter, thinks an extra hour of daylight in the afternoon during winter is a terrific idea because it would give Mainers more time at the end of their work day to get outdoors.

“The more sunlight you can get in winter in a state like Maine, it’s good,” Trahan said. “Maybe it will put us in a little better mood.”

SOME SURPRISED BY SUPPORT

“I’m excited. I think it’s wonderful,” said Bob Meyers, an avid snowmobiler. “It could change our lives for the better.”

Meyers, director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, said riders who go out after sunset can use their headlights, but being able to ride in bright sunlight on a fresh pack of snow is always more enjoyable.

As president of the Cumberland Fair, Mike Timmons knows a lot of farmers. He said he was a bit surprised by the Legislature’s actions as well as by how much support the bill got. Timmons said he would need more time to assess the impact such a time change would have on farmers, but his initial reaction was it should not present problems.

“I don’t think it would have an effect on farmers. It might be a good thing,” Timmons said.

Bailey said she’s heard of no negative impact on states that refuse to change their clocks, such as Arizona and Indiana. Other states, such as Kentucky, which is split between Eastern and Central time zones, do not suffer from having different time zones, she said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this story.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

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