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House Ready to Vote Longer Daylight Time

Times Staff Writer

What’s one simple step that could curb crime, cut traffic accidents, save energy, give the economy a multimillion-dollar boost, spread joy among the nation’s golfers, gardeners, shoppers and tennis and softball players--and help little children collect bushels more candy on Halloween?

A lot of members of the House think they know: lengthen daylight-saving time from six months to seven.

The House, responding to an unusual coalition of business, sports and health groups, appears to be on the brink of voting overwhelmingly for later sunsets beginning in early April--not late April, as now--and longer afternoons extending into November across most of the country.

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To pick up crucial votes for the bill, proponents are advocating sunnier, and therefore “safer,” candy hunts for Halloween trick-or-treaters. Halloween, on Oct. 31 and now lodged in standard time, would gain an hour of afternoon sun by moving to daylight saving. Presumably, safer conditions would bring out more kids--and spur candy sales, said Peter J. Pantuso of the National Confectioners Assn.

Critics contend that expanding daylight time--and the later spring and fall sunrises that that entails--would throw many early-rising farmers, and children waiting for school buses, out in the dark and cold.

Breezed Through Committee

But the House is expected to ignore such objections when it returns next month. Already, the bill has breezed through the 42-member Energy and Commerce Committee.

And, although the Senate--where a number of farm-state Republicans face reelection next year--is less sympathetic, one lobbyist said that he is counting on “pillow talk” by Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole, who supports the extension, to bring around her husband, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who has opposed it.

Daylight-saving time now stretches from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October. The House bill, sponsored by Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale), would move clocks an hour ahead on the first Sunday in April and back an hour on the first Sunday in November.

Some proponents would like to see not just seven, but eight months of daylight-saving time, beginning with the first Sunday in March. The longer period is embodied in a bill by Sens. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and Claiborne Pell (D-R. I.), but after the House rejected such a proposal in each of the last two years, the Daylight Saving Time Coalition--a politically muscular ad hoc group formed to promote the change--decided to support the seven-month compromise.

James Benfield, executive director of the coalition, said that changing the starting date from March to April did much to mute criticism that later sunrises in the spring and fall would cause hardships for farmers, schoolchildren and others in Northern states.

Cold Weather Concern

“The sound of March was brrrrrr” for many lawmakers, Benfield said. “The sound of April was tweet, tweet, tweet.”

April, he added, is the most critical target month.

“April has an extraordinary waste of daylight in the morning,” Benfield said, citing elaborate astronomical tables. Under standard time, “it has the earliest sunrises of the entire year,” he said.

One big reason proponents see improved prospects for expansion of daylight saving is that business has become an avid supporter. Benfield’s coalition includes 8,300 companies whose combined annual retail sales exceed $135 billion.

“This is the first time business has taken a hard look at the numbers” of dollars that could be reaped from giving the public more time to shop and play after work, Benfield said. “Some were really surprised.”

The Southland Corp., which operates 7-Eleven stores, found that “an additional seven weeks of evening daylight would mean nearly $30 million in additional sales,” Kathleen Clark of the National Assn. of Convenience Stores testified at a House hearing. She said that most of the increase would probably come from women, who are “generally more security-conscious than men” and “favor daylight hours for shopping.”

More Time for Sports

Jacques Hetrick, representing sporting goods manufacturers, figured that an additional hour of afternoon daylight in the spring would boost sales of golf and tennis equipment by $65 million.

Supporters of more daylight-saving time point also to the benefits it would confer on persons who suffer from retinitis pigmentosa, or “night blindness.”

Opposition to expanding daylight-saving time is led by the American Farm Bureau Federation, which wants the period sharply trimmed to run only from Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) to Labor Day (the first Monday in September).

The bureau complained in a statement that, despite a Transportation Department study showing that the risk of accidents would not increase, rural parents are “concerned about their children waiting for a bus or walking to school in the dark.”

Also, the bureau said, creating late sunrises during harvest season would cut into evening community activities of farmers, who have to wait until the sun comes out and the dew disappears before they can begin harvesting grains and making hay.

Year-Round in Oil Crisis

Broad-based opposition developed in 1973, when Congress voted for year-round daylight-saving time as a fuel-saving move in the wake of the Arab oil embargo. The action, later reduced in 1974 to an eight-month period and in 1975 to six months, made for especially cold early mornings in November, December, January and February for much of the country.

Daylight-saving time was used in World Wars I and II, principally to conserve electricity. Nationwide peacetime observance began in 1966, when Congress instituted a six-month period in the Uniform Time Act. That law exempted the states of Arizona, Hawaii, Alaska and most of Indiana from daylight saving.

Those exemptions have remained to the present day, and would be honored under the expansion proposals.


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