Published October 24, 2021

Time Change or Time for a Change?

Written by
Greg Demme
| The Dakotan

North Dakotans are weary of falling back and springing forward

As the year descends deeper into autumn, some North Dakotans face the first Sunday in November with trepidation: the end of Daylight Saving Time for the year. This means it’s time to change the clocks again (fall back one hour on November 7), and many North Dakotans, especially those with young children, dislike the semi-annual disruption caused by the shifting schedule. 

Minot resident and mother Christine Morse says last time the clocks changed it took 2-3 weeks for her 2-year-old daughter to adjust. “That doesn’t seem like a long time,” Morse explained, “but it throws everything off throughout her day, and since I work from home and rely on her naps, it also throws off work for me.” 

Justin Klein of Norwich expressed a similar sentiment. “We have a quite a few little ones (ages 2-16), and in the spring it takes a least a week for them all to adjust. They’re lethargic [during all that time].” 

Not only do parents find the time change largely inconvenient, but some farmers and ranchers do as well. The change seems to affect dairy farms more than others. Lee Zimmerman, owner of Sandhills Dairy in Denbigh, said, “It’s tough on the cows and tough on the people. A milk cow wants the same routine every day. [The time change] throws off the 8-hour milking intervals and messes up the people’s 11-hour shifts.”

Not everyone is overly bothered by the impact of switching back and forth between Standard Time and Daylight Saving Time (DST). Jarvis York, owner of Black Sun Farms, Inc., in Kenmare says, “As a farmer, I’m going to work during harvest well into the nighttime no matter what. It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s an hour ahead or an hour behind.” 

"It's tough on the cows and tough on the people." Lee Zimmerman, Sandhills Dairy, Denbigh

The concept of DST was suggested a few times in history, by Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century and by New Zealand entomologist and amateur astronomer George Hudson in 1895, but the idea was first adopted during World War I as a method of conserving energy. 

After World War I, DST was abolished nationally but allowed to continue in the states. Because of confusion arising from interstate transportation issues, the Uniform Time Act (UTA) was passed in 1966. The UTA established federally mandated dates for instituting DST across the nation, although the act permitted states to exempt themselves. However, any state that chooses to observe DST must use the federally mandated dates. 

In recent years a movement has arisen to abolish changing the time. Two bills were sponsored in the last North Dakota legislative session that would have moved the state permanently to DST. But the bills could not be agreed upon by both the state Senate and the House of Representatives.

The legislative activity that killed the bills demonstrated how tricky it could be to actually solve this issue. One relevant question is whether to solve it at the state level or the federal level. 

"We should have been the leader, not following other states."Sen. Oley Larsen, R-Dis. 3, Minot

According to state Senator Jason Heitkamp, R-Dis. 26, Wyndmere, solving this at the state level is permitted by the UTA if a state chooses to simply remain on standard time year round. But if a state chooses to go on DST year-round, the Federal government would have to approve that.  Others believe  the power of individual states to act is guaranteed by the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But exercising this power could induce the kind of transportation issues from state to state that led to the federal adoption of DST in the first place. 

Not only would such a state-by-state solution cause transportation issues, but people living near state borders (or other time zone borders) would likely be affected on a day-to-day basis. Many people near state borders live in one state and work in the other. Sen. Heitkamp explained that most of the opposition he heard about the bill he sponsored (Senate bill 2201) came from North Dakotans near the Minnesota border and near the Montana border. “We have to work with people—there were plenty of North Dakotans near the borders that had issues with this.” The effect would be even greater for families in which some family members make a cross-border trip during each day but others don’t. 

Such concerns led the senate to amend SB 2201 to state that the bill would be adopted into law if the U.S. Congress approved states to do so and if Minnesota, Montana, and South Dakota also passed similar bills.  

Other legislators don’t want to wait around for the federal government or neighboring states. Senator Oley Larsen, R-Dis. 3, Minot, said, “We should have been the leader in [that process], not following other states.” 

"Why are we even still doing this?"Jarvis York, Black Sun Farms, Kenmare

If the state of North Dakota chooses not to address this issue, there’s no guarantee the federal government will ever make this change. And even if the state or federal governments do choose to act, there’s no general consensus about which time to adopt permanently.

As the United States have moved away from a predominantly agrarian society, even in North Dakota, many people spend more of their waking hours in the evening, and so they prefer to have more of the daylight shifted to that time of day. For such people, keeping DST year-round tends to be the most attractive solution. Klein, for one, would prefer to have the daylight shifted permanently to the evening. “That’s when most people are active,” he said. 

For others who still prefer to have more daylight in the earlier part of the day, abolishing DST altogether and reverting to permanent Standard Time makes more sense. Kim Kabanuck, a truck driver from Max who also used to raise livestock, would much prefer to have more daylight in the morning hours. “Old habits die hard,” Kabanuck agreed. “But [the current autumn time switch] doesn’t even really make much difference here; after a couple of weeks, it’s right back to dark again in the morning.” York said similarly, “It’s just a hassle to have to even worry about changing the clocks twice a year—why are we even still doing this?”

Has the time finally come to put an end to switching clocks twice a year? Regardless of how this issue gets solved, it seems many North Dakotans share one sentiment: just pick a time and stick with it. 

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