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California Politics: The time change that wasn’t

Welcome to the end of those dark mornings and to darker afternoons, the arrival of Pacific Standard Time and your biannual reminder of how California lawmakers teed up the issue of clock changes three years ago but then left things exactly as they’ve been for decades.

Sunday’s end of daylight saving time offers the chance to remind us of how California voters embraced a change for the state and how the public — and, as a result, politicians — often muddy the waters by debating standard versus daylight savings. In fact, most discussions that I’ve heard from friends & family are more basic: “Can’t we just pick one system of telling time?” they ask.

The answer: yes.

One timekeeping system

The only time California lawmakers elevated the timekeeping discussion to the statewide level, by placing Proposition 7 on the 2018 ballot, they chose to make it about daylight saving time, embracing that eight-month period as the preferred choice. But they did so knowing that, at this point, they can’t deliver on that choice.

No state has the power to enact year-round daylight saving time. But states do have the power to stay on standard time all year long — just look at Arizona (excluding some tribal lands) and Hawaii.

Several years of debate over the issue in Sacramento led state lawmakers along with then-Gov. Jerry Brown put the issue of daylight saving time on the November ballot three years ago.

“Fiat lux!” Brown wrote in his bill-signing statement.

But Proposition 7, as I wrote at the time, did pretty much nothing. And what’s never been really explained is why the ballot measure focused exclusively on daylight saving time, correctly noting that any legislative action on the issue was impossible until or unless Congress took action.

What voters didn’t see: The legislation that led to Proposition 7 originally made it clear that, with the approval of voters, the Legislature should be allowed to erase daylight saving time and adopt year-round standard time. And yet that was language removed from the bill in the summer of 2018, with almost no discussion.

After I posted this recollection of events Sunday on Twitter, one of the authors of Proposition 7 responded.

“As a joint author on the bill & initiative, I can say that yes — we can vote for permanent PST & enact it immediately,” wrote Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), referring to year-round standard time.

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Gonzalez said her co-author, former Bay Area Assemblyman Kansen Chu, was the one who preferred daylight saving time as the year-round system. He wasn’t alone, as much of the legislative debate also centered on the merits or shortcomings of daylight saving.

But if it’s mostly the twice-a-year change that bothers you, then the Legislature can step in any time it wants.

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