Daylight Saving Time advances toward twilight

A bill eliminating Daylight Saving Time in Alaska is advancing in the Alaska Legislature after receiving its first hearing since last year.

On Thursday morning, the House State Affairs Committee approved a modified version of Senate Bill 6, which would end Daylight Saving Time in Alaska if the entire state moves to the Pacific Time Zone.

“I think it’s a really smart move,” said Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla and vice-chairman of the committee.

Keller led a House State Affairs subcommittee that met during last fall’s Legislative special session. The subcommittee was formed to come up with a compromise that might satisfy Alaskans who want to get rid of daylight saving and Southeast Alaska residents who say the existing time structure is critical for tourism.

Last year, Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Anchorage, introduced SB 6, but during the committee process and on the Senate floor, her idea met with fierce opposition from businesses, particularly in Southeast Alaska, who said the bill would have an adverse effect on their business.

As enacted, Daylight Saving Time shifts the clock each summer so clock time is offset from solar time – there is more daylight after noon before noon.

Without Daylight Saving Time, and without a shift to Pacific Time, the sun at Juneau would reach its highest point almost exactly at noon. Tourism businesses said that would limit the number of flying tours they could conduct before sunset. Since cruise ship schedules are generally inflexible, that would limit flying services’ business.

The compromise addresses that issue by requesting the U.S. Department of Transportation – which regulates state time zones – put Alaska into Pacific Time. That would put Alaska on the same time as Seattle and San Francisco during the summer, and one hour different in winter. Metlakatla already operates under such a system.

The state would have to apply to move itself into a new time zone, and the final say would be up to the DOT.

If the DOT doesn’t put Alaska into Pacific Time, nothing would change.

“I promise you that the intent here is … that there is no action on Daylight Saving Time unless the U.S. Department of Transportation chooses to put us on Pacific Time,” Keller said.

The compromise would have the greatest effect in the Aleutians and Western Alaska. The westernmost portion of the Aleutians is on Hawaiian Time, two hours off Pacific Time. That area would advance two hours.

Nome and Unalaska, which are on Alaska time but far to the west, would see themselves farther off solar time during the winter.

Keller said those areas would have ample time to comment if the U.S. DOT chose to take up the state’s petition to move time zones.

Senate Bill 6 now goes to the House Finance Committee. If approved in Finance and by the full House, the Senate would have to vote to approve the compromise deal. The Senate voted 16-4 last year to approve the original bill.

Special session location

The state affairs committee approved Senate Concurrent Resolution 16, the measure proposed by Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, to hold a special session away from Juneau if a special session is needed.

As a resolution, it lacks binding authority: It’s simply a request from the Legislature to Gov. Bill Walker.

With the Alaska Capitol scheduled to undergo construction soon after the scheduled end of the regular session, “I think it would be almost irresponsible for us to try to stay,” Stoltze said.

The resolution previously passed the Senate and is now advancing toward a House floor vote.

While Stoltze’s resolution specifies only that the special session should be held “in a community on the state’s road system,” there was no discussion in the committee of any location other than Anchorage.

“On the House side, of 40 members, 21 live in the Anchorage bowl,” Rep. Liz Vazquez, R-Anchorage, said of the possible financial savings involved with a special session in Anchorage.

The resolution has been referred to the House Rules Committee and is expected to reach a floor vote.

Texting while driving

A bill to reduce the penalty for texting while driving has advanced out of the House State Affairs Committee. Senate Bill 123, created by Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage and the Senate President, turns texting while driving into a $500 citation instead of a Class A misdemeanor.

Meyer, speaking to the committee, said the existing texting-while-driving statute passed by the Legislature is too difficult for municipalities to prosecute, leading to fewer charges.

“By making this a $500 fine, we’ll have more enforcement and it’ll be a stronger deterrent,” he said.

Rep. Vazquez said she was concerned that penalty might be too light unless there is some kind of escalation for repeat violators.

“I think we have to increase the penalty if they’re caught habitually,” she said.

In response to questions, Alaska State Troopers Lt. David Hanson, the deputy commander of the Alaska Bureau of Highway Patrol, said the state doesn’t raise the penalty for repeat speeders, but “Having a point total associated with this … might work,” he said of penalty points on a driver’s license. “If it’s $500 and, say, two-point, at some point you’re going to reach some administrative action.”

Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla and vice-chairman of the committee, said he would like to see how the measure works as a violation before adding the point penalty to it.

No such amendment was offered in House State Affairs, but Meyer said one could be offered in its next committee.

SB 123 advances to the House Judiciary Committee.

Other business

The House State Affairs Committee also approved a resolution declaring April 2016 Sexual Assault Awareness Month and a bill exempting Legislative contractors from portions of the Legislative Ethics Act.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 20 now goes to the House Rules Committee, while Senate Bill 24 now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

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