Lancaster attempts to finally rid Alaska of daylight-saving time

Making deal on daylight

Posted: Tuesday, March 05, 2002

Let the rest of the nation "spring ahead" or "fall back" as often as they please. Alaskans would prefer inhabiting the standard temporal sphere year round, thank you.

So says Rep. Ken Lancaster, R-Soldotna, sponsor of House Bill 409, a measure aiming to unwind daylight-saving time in Alaska once and for all.

The idea has been tried before, without success, admitted Lancaster. But if time really does fly, daylight-saving time ought to head south, because here in the high latitudes, saving daylight seems, well, rather ludicrous.

"Because of our high latitudinal location, the extremities in times for sunrise and sunset are more exaggerated for Alaska than anywhere else in the country," Lancaster said. "This places Alaska in the unique position to be less affected by any type of savings from daylight-saving time.

"The actual benefit attributed to Alaska from daylight-saving time is essentially nonexistent," he said.

"We, as a people, disdain being told what to do by the rest of the country," Lancaster said. "HB 409 will get rid of one more unnecessary shackle placed on Alaskans by the federal government."

Lancaster said his office has had numerous requests, mostly from private citizens, to do away with the twice-annual clock change. One request came from a Soldotna High School government class, he said.

OK, altering Alaska's clocks by an hour might not affect the way we conduct business with the rest of the West Coast states in any radical way, Lancaster admitted, but it "should make things a little bit simpler."

This is not the first time this has been tried in the Alaska Legislature. Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, sponsored a bill in 1999 that went nowhere. After getting mixed reviews in the House Special Committee on World Trade and State-Federal Relations, it went to the House Labor and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, where it promptly died for lack of action.

Rokeberg was in meetings Monday and could not be reached for comment.

House Minority Leader Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, was a member of the world trade committee back in 1999. He opposed the earlier bill. Monday he said he couldn't recall exactly what the prime objections were, but said there had been some testimony from representatives of the military regarding problems it might cause them, and he remembered that there was some concern in the business community.

"My line has always been that if they want to save daylight, move it to the winter when we need it," Berkowitz joked.

Kohring said Monday he still doesn't know what would have happened had his 1999 bill reached the floor. He never got the chance to really gauge the attitudes of other lawmakers. Today, he said, he has other priorities.

"I wish Ken Lancaster well," he said, adding that he would support the bill if it comes to the floor.

Alaska once had four times zones -- Pacific, Yukon, Alaska and Bering. Back then, the Alaska Panhandle was in the same time zone as Washington, Oregon and California.

In an effort to improve commerce and communications, those four zones became two in 1983. Most of the state now is on Alaska time, one hour behind the Pacific coast states. Portions of the Aleutian Island chain are on Hawaii-Aleutian time, two hours behind.

Before the institution of standard time by the railroads in 1883, what time it was in any particular place was largely a local decision. Time zones became U.S. law in 1918 when the Standard Time Act was passed. That law also created daylight-saving time, but the idea proved so controversial it was repealed the following year.

Daylight-saving time became law again in World War II as an energy conservation measure, but after the war, its use varied among the states.

For several decades, the Interstate Commerce Commission had jurisdiction over time zones. Today, it is the U.S. Department of Transportation that oversees time zones.

The idea of altering time zones to enhance business is no whim. In fact, under federal law, "convenience of commerce" is the principal standard for deciding on a time zone change, according to a U.S. Naval Observatory Web site.

House Bill 409 currently is in the House Labor and Commerce Committee. As of Monday, no hearings have been scheduled on the bill.

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