BOSTON – Lacking authority to change the laws of physics to allow more sunlight on the darkest days of winter, a special commission is instead considering whether Massachusetts should change the laws of man and observe daylight saving time year-round.
If adopted, Massachusetts residents wouldn't have to set their clocks back in November and forward in March, as most of the U.S. does.
Benefits of having daylight saving time throughout the year could include energy savings and less seasonal depression, proponents suggest.
Skeptics argue it would be impractical for Massachusetts to make such a change on its own if the rest of New England does not. And if the sun sets later in the day it also would rise later in the morning, posing dangers for children walking to school in the dark.
"Are we just going to be trading one problem for another problem?" asked Republican state Rep. Paul Frost, a member of the 11-member commission that met for the first time Wednesday and hopes to make recommendations by March 31.
Massachusetts isn't alone in weighing the pros and cons of doing away with the seasonal time shifts. California, Alaska and nearly a dozen other states have debated similar measures.
Some of Massachusetts' neighbors also have broached the subject. A Rhode Island lawmaker proposed a bill last year that he hoped would lead the entire Northeast region to shift one-hour eastward to the Atlantic Time Zone, which includes several Canadian maritime provinces.
"When I moved up here in 2011 I was horrified when the sun set at 4:11 p.m. and I thought to myself there has to be a better way," said Tom Emswiler, a Quincy resident who penned a widely read newspaper op-ed piece and then asked his state senator to file a bill creating the commission, to which Emswiler was later named.
The New England region juts out further into the Atlantic than other eastern states, making winter days seem even shorter, Emswhile said. Public health data suggest more heart attacks and car crashes occur when clocks spring ahead in March and sleep patterns are altered, he said.
While potential energy savings are disputed, panelist Peter Shattuck said after Congress in 2005 extended daylight saving time by several weeks, energy consumption during that additional period decreased by 0.5 percent.
"If people don't have to turn on the lights as early, they use less electricity," said Shattuck, Massachusetts director for the Acadia Center, an energy and environmental advocacy group.
Commission members pledged to keep open minds. That includes Frost, who nonetheless cast himself a skeptic.
"I have a lot of concerns ... from the safety aspect, from the economy aspect, from a confusion aspect," said Frost, who wondered how Boston could be in one time zone part of the year while states barely an hour to the north and south could be in another.
The change might be more palatable, he said, if it were made in concert with the rest of the New England or the Northeast region.