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Colorado is about to (possibly, maybe, conditionally) adopt permanent daylight saving time

Congress also must pass a law, and at least four other Mountain time zone states need to join

Colorado is on the verge of adopting a law that would make daylight saving time permanent year-round – but that doesn’t necessarily make clock-switching a thing of the past in the state, at least not yet.

Last week, the state Senate passed House Bill 22-1297, meaning it is now headed to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk. A spokesman for the governor said this week that Polis will sign the bill.

The bill wouldn’t automatically keep Colorado’s clocks locked into “coordinated universal time minus six hours,” as the bill describes it. Instead, two conditions must be met first: Congress must pass a law allowing states to switch to permanent daylight time and at least four other states in the Mountain time zone must adopt permanent DST.

Neither of those conditions has yet been met – though they could be soon.

To supporters, the bill ends the hated task of springing forward each year, which studies have shown leads to increases in heart attacks, strokes, car accidents and other problems in the immediate aftermath.

(As a refresher, standard time roughly tracks the sun in each time zone, with the sun at its highest point in the sky around noon. Colorado and most other states observe standard time during the winter months. Daylight time, meanwhile, pushes the clock ahead an hour during the spring, summer and fall, meaning people see later sunsets.)

“For many years, people have been getting more and more frustrated with the change in the time,” state Rep. Cathy Kipp, a Democrat from Fort Collins who is one of the bill’s prime sponsors, said at its first committee hearing last month. “But it’s not just the frustration that people are feeling. It’s actually been documented now as a public health issue.”

Lawmakers have been proposing similar daylight saving bills at the state Legislature for more than a decade. But this year’s measure, which has bipartisan sponsorship, had widespread support in the Capitol, passing its first committee hearing unanimously and clearing both chambers with only 19 total no votes.

Concern about later sunrises

The bill drew a smattering of passionate opposition, though, raised by a number of different groups that show just how far-reaching the impacts of a one-hour shift for part of the year could be.

Their main concern has to do with sunrise times during the winter months. Denver, for instance, would see about two months of the year where the sun would not rise before 8 a.m. and for nearly half of the year wouldn’t see a sunrise before 7 a.m. The number of days with sunsets after 7 p.m. would be virtually unchanged, though there would be more than 50 additional days with a sunset after 6 p.m.

The Colorado Broadcasters Association opposed the measure, worried about how a switch to daylight time during the winter months would impact the morning programming of AM radio stations, whose transmission signals are not allowed to travel as far in the dark.

During a committee hearing earlier this month, Alec Creighton, who owns several radio stations in northeast Colorado, said a later sunrise in the winter would mean fewer farmers and ranchers in the region could tune into his AM station’s morning market reports.

The Colorado PTA also opposed the bill, concerned about the impact it would have on kids waking up and heading off to school in the dark during the winter.

A lobbyist for Colorado Ski Country USA expressed concern that the bill would create “competitive disadvantages” for Colorado ski areas if other ski states weren’t also on permanent daylight time – hence the amendment passed during the bill’s first committee hearing requiring four other Mountain time states to also make the switch, which nullified ski areas’ opposition. Resorts say later sunrise times would push back when they can begin crucial preparations for the day, like avalanche mitigation work, and could lead to later opening times.

Snowmaking creates a haunting landscape of steam and snow on a subzero morning at Crested Butte Mountain Resort on Dec. 16. (Dean Krakel/Special to The Colorado Sun)

Sleep experts, including a sleep science professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, say being on daylight saving time in the winter would mess with circadian rhythms, likely resulting in people going to bed later and waking up without getting adequate rest. That, they argue, would lead to worse physical and mental health, possibly increasing rates of depression, substance abuse and obesity.

“We need that morning light for our mood, for our alertness,” Jay Pea, the founder of a nationwide group called Save Standard Time, testified during one of the bill’s committee hearings. “It prevents depression. It wakes us up in the morning. We don’t adapt (without it).”

Opponents also note that we’ve been down this road before. The U.S. switched to permanent daylight saving time for one year in 1974. After initial public enthusiasm, support cratered during the winter, and Congress reversed the decision. A supporter of Colorado’s bill argued during one committee hearing that short notice for the change contributed to its downfall.

How likely is this to happen?

There has been growing momentum across the country for a switch to permanent daylight time. So, while the bill will essentially sit dormant once Polis signs it, it could jump into effect fairly quickly.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Montana, Utah and Wyoming have all passed bills to switch to full-time daylight time when Congress OKs it. That means only one more state in the Mountain time zone needs to sign on to satisfy one of the Colorado bill’s requirements.

Idaho has also passed a permanent daylight saving time bill – but only for the northern parts of the state in the Pacific time zone. Arizona is on full-time standard time.

So, for the requirement to be met, either Arizona has to switch, New Mexico has to pass full-time daylight time or Idaho has to do for the southern part of the state what it’s done for the northern part. (Parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas and Oregon are also in the Mountain time zone, but they do not count for the bill’s requirement.)

Sunrise on the eastern plains of Colorado in an undated photo. (Mark Reis/Special to The Colorado Sun)

Sen. Jeff Bridges, a Greenwood Village Democrat who is also among the bill’s prime sponsors, said the daylight time bills passed by other states in the region are an argument for Colorado passing its own bill. If Congress were to allow states to enact full-time daylight time – federal law currently allows states to choose full-time standard time but not the other way around — Colorado could find itself out of sync with its neighbors, Bridges said.

“This bill is actually much more about making sure that Colorado stays on track, stays aligned with other states in the Mountain time zone,” Bridges said during a committee hearing this month.

He acknowledged research showing the potential harms of being on daylight saving time during the winter, but he said there is also research that shows the opposite – that later sunset times will increase physical activity as people spend more time outside after work or school. And he said the bill would eliminate the problems that come with clock-switching, especially in the spring.

“At the end of the day, the best data we have, the best research we have is that changing the clock is the most-deadly thing we can do,” Bridges said.

As for Congress’ approval – the other requirement of Colorado’s bill – the U.S. Senate last month passed a bill to make daylight saving time permanent across the entire country. That measure now needs to be approved by the House, where it has stalled. President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has not said whether he would sign the bill if it gets through Congress.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.