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RI POLITICS

Senator Whitehouse on Daylight Saving Time: ‘The whole thing is kind of a silly exercise’

The “Sunshine Protection Act,” sponsored by the Rhode Island senator, passed the Senate on Tuesday, but will still have to pass the House of Representatives and be signed by President Biden before people can forget about springing ahead and falling back.

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse speaking at the State of Rhode Island Veterans Day Ceremony at the Rhode Island Veterans Home in November 2021.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse was speaking in the Senate on Tuesday about the bill he’d sponsored to make Daylight Saving Time permanent when he noticed something.

The person transcribing remarks on the Senate floor, a role that usually comes with a poker face, was... nodding and smiling. To Whitehouse, it was an indication of the broad support behind making Daylight Saving Time permanent – a measure that passed the Senate by unanimous consent.

“When the transcribing people are giving you the equivalent of a thumbs-up, that’s a pretty good sign,” Whitehouse, a Democrat who was an original co-sponsor of the bill, told the Globe in a phone interview.

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Of course, the legislation – called the “Sunshine Protection Act” – will still have to pass the House of Representatives and be signed by President Biden before people can forget about springing ahead and falling back. But to Whitehouse, it was a sign of the Senate working across sometimes stark ideological lines to get things done.

“It ain’t over, but that doesn’t take anything away from this having been a good day in the Senate,” Whitehouse said.

According to Whitehouse, it’s the first time the measure has passed either chamber. They’ve tried for years, but after several tries, this year there was an inexorable momentum: People really don’t like when it gets dark at 4 p.m.

People may also not like when it remains dark past 8 a.m. if Daylight Saving Time remains permanent (in other words, the current clocks after we set the clocks an hour ahead this past weekend). At the depths of winter, civil twilight in Providence wouldn’t start until after 7:30 a.m., with sunrise past 8:10 a.m. on some days, according to National Weather Service data. That means kids waiting at dark bus stops in the morning and early risers waiting an hour longer for the first glimpses of sunshine.

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Whitehouse acknowledged there’s a balance.

“You’re making a shift, and there are winners and losers in the shift, but what’s very clear is there are far more people out and about between 4:15 and 5:15 in the afternoon than there are out and about between 6:30 and 7:30 in the morning,” Whitehouse said.

Even kids would benefit, Whitehouse said: When they get out of school, they’ll have another hour of daylight to go out, play in the park, throw a ball. Whitehouse’s staff also pointed to potential benefits ranging from less seasonal depression, fewer car crashes, and more energy efficiency.

“I’m pretty comfortable that overall, this is a big plus for most families,” Whitehouse said.

One thing he’s sure of is that switching clocks twice a year is not something you’d choose to implement now if it hadn’t already been in place and everyone hadn’t gotten used to it.

“The whole thing is kind of a silly exercise,” Whitehouse said.


Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.