Maine voters could have the final say on whether the state moves to Atlantic Standard Time, a change that would be the same as staying on daylight saving time year-round.

A bill that would make that shift cleared the Maine Senate on Tuesday with one substantial condition: a requirement that voters approve moving to the new time zone in a statewide referendum. And that vote would occur only if Massachusetts and New Hampshire also went to Atlantic Standard Time.

That shift would be the equivalent of Maine staying on Eastern Daylight Time year-round, meaning there would be no more biannual changing of clocks by one hour. The Atlantic time zone includes portions of Canada’s eastern provinces, such as Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

As the easternmost state in the United States, much of Maine sees December sunsets at roughly 4 p.m. or earlier, so switching to Atlantic time would result in a 5 p.m. sunset. Last week, the House voted 85-59 in favor of the time zone change. The Senate on Tuesday added the referendum requirement and passed the measure on a voice vote, which means there was no recorded roll-call vote.

If the House and Senate can’t reconcile the differences between the two versions, the bill will fail.

Advocates say having a later sunset in winter would benefit health and reduce energy costs, while opponents point out that being on a different time zone than New York City and Washington, D.C., for about four-and-a-half months every year would be a detriment to businesses that need to synchronize with the rest of the East Coast.


In Eastport, the easternmost city in the United States, the sun sets at 3:46 p.m. in mid-December. Jeff and Lesley Starling, owners of The Happy Crab restaurant, support being on Atlantic time year-round and having the sun set an hour later in the winter.

“Yep, I think I would go for that,” said Lesley Starling, who “loathes” the winter’s early sunsets. “I’ve been saying this for years, why do we go back-and-forth like that, with the clocks? It drives me insane, and, frankly, causes a lot of confusion.”

Her husband said in the winter, people don’t go out to eat as much in the late afternoon if it’s already dark out. And, he said, schoolchildren would have more daylight time after school.

But Diane Parsloe, the owner of Moose Island Bakery, is not so sure. She said unless school start times are changed, children in Eastport would be waiting for the bus in the dark in the winter, and it wouldn’t be fully light out until about 8 a.m.

“There’s something wrong about being in the dark until 8 a.m.,” Parsloe said.

Rep. Donna Bailey, D-Saco, the bill’s sponsor, is disappointed that the Senate added the referendum requirement when it took up the measure.


“Moving us fully to Atlantic Standard Time makes sense. It’s better for our health and for the stability of Maine businesses, schools and families,” Bailey said in a statement. “There’s no reason Maine should be an outlier and operate at a different time than the rest of New England and yet that is exactly what the newly passed Senate amendment does by requiring Maine to pass a referendum to make the change, even if Massachusetts and New Hampshire already pass it. I will continue to work to ensure the bill the House passed, which would allow us to make the change as soon as Massachusetts and New Hampshire do, moves through the full Legislature and is signed by the governor.”

The New Hampshire House has approved going to Atlantic Standard Time, and Massachusetts has established a commission to study the idea.

Tom Emswiler, a health advocate in Massachusetts who is on the time zone commission, said a referendum on the proposal could pass in Maine.

“I believe the average person on the street in Maine wants this to happen,” he said.

All time zone changes must be approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Rep. Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, who sponsored a bill nearly identical to Bailey’s, said she would prefer that the House simply accept the referendum requirement attached by the Senate in order to get the bill passed. Dillingham believes voters would easily approve a referendum once Massachusetts and New Hampshire shifted to Atlantic time.


“I think overwhelmingly people would not want to be an outlier, to be the only place on Eastern time between Canada and the New England states,” she said.

Dillingham said the move would have health benefits, such as reducing Seasonal Affective Disorder and anxiety. Studies also point to an increase in vehicle accidents and occupational injuries associated with the time changes.

“You’re shifting the daylight to a more usable part of the day,” she said.

Doug MacPherson, of Cape Neddick, said he has Seasonal Affective Disorder, and he has to use a “light therapy lamp” during the long Maine winter to improve his outlook.

He said having an extra hour in the evening would help him and others.

“Psychologically, people want to enjoy the light later in the day,” MacPherson said. “In the morning, if it’s dark, at least you know it will be light out soon.”

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

Twitter: @joelawlorph

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