Daylight saving compromise proposed in House

A Wasilla Republican has suggested a compromise that could assuage the fears of Alaskans concerned about the proposed elimination of daylight saving time in the 49th state.

Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, held a 20-minute meeting of a House subcommittee Friday to propose that in addition to eliminating daylight saving time, the entire state move to the Pacific Time Zone.

“Frankly, I’m pretty optimistic that this is a possibility,” he said. “That’s part of the reason I’m really enthused about the bill.”

Last year, the Alaska Senate voted 16-4 to approve Senate Bill 6, which calls for the state to drop daylight saving time immediately, then permit parts of Alaska to petition the federal government for a switch to Pacific Time.

While states can decide on an individual basis whether to keep or reject daylight saving, the federal Department of Transportation regulates the boundaries of the time zones in the United States. Putting part — or all — of Alaska in the Pacific Time Zone would require a federal process.

“At the end of the day, that’s up to DOT, not the state,” said Craig Dahl, executive director of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.

SB6 is now in the House, where the House State Affairs Committee is expected to begin considering it when the regular session begins in early 2016. The Keller subcommittee’s compromise plan will be at the top of its agenda.

In its original form, SB6 concerns Southeast Alaskans — particularly companies with tourism ties — because of the effect it could have on tours limited by daylight. In Southeast Alaska, eliminating daylight saving time would move an hour of daylight from the end of the day to the morning, curtailing the ability of tour operators to accommodate late-arriving cruise ship passengers.

The biggest impact would be felt among airlines that offer aerial tours but cannot land after dark. On Friday, representatives from Alaska Seaplanes, Wings of Alaska, Alaska Electric Light and Power and the Juneau Chamber of Commerce all attended the morning meeting, though none were permitted to offer testimony.

If Alaska ends daylight saving time, Southeast Alaska business leaders have considered petitioning the federal government to switch the region to Pacific Time. That has alarmed businesses in other parts of the state, which could find themselves an hour off the capital’s time.

When the state last significantly changed its time zones in 1983, it consolidated four into two, in part because having Anchorage and Fairbanks off the capitol’s time zone created problems.

With both sides raising concerns about elements of the current time zone proposal, Keller and a subcommittee consisting of Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka; Keller and Rep. Liz Vazquez, R-Anchorage, suggested the compromise that puts the entire state into the Pacific Time Zone.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Anchorage, proposed SB6 in the Senate and said the proposed compromise is a problem for Western Alaska, which would then be four or more hours off solar time. When the sun is at its highest point in Juneau, it would be early morning in Unalaska, but clocks in both places would be the same.

“The problem with that is the sun doesn’t come up at the same time everywhere. Western Alaska would be specifically disadvantaged more. Do I like that idea? No, not particularly,” she said Saturday.

She added that she proposed the bill to alleviate the health and safety problems caused by varied darkness and daylight, and the compromise does not fix that in western portions of the state.

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