Rep. Jerry Torr, the man who brought us this edition of the DST/Time Zone debacle, submitted a letter to the USDOT just under the wire. My main critique of his approach to the whole DST/Time Zone issue is his failure to address time zones when repealing the law that exempted us from Daylight Saving Time. What I call a “bug” of the legislation, he apparently regards as an “undocumented feature.”
I tried very hard to keep the time zone arguments separate from the debate over whether all Hoosiers should change their clocks twice a year . . . . In my view, The arguments in favor of observing DST were completely different from the arguments over which time zone is preferable for a particular area. Unfortunately, we were not able to keep the two debates separate, and the result was the compromise bill that passed in SB 127.
First of all, the “compromise bill” was not much of a compromise. It contained 3 sections. Section 1 called for the state to support any local officials that petitioned for a change of time zone. Section 2 repealed the state’s exemption from DST. And section 3 called for the Governor to submit any documents necessary to obtain state wide hearings on time zones. Governor Daniels failed to comply with section 3 when he submitted a horribly inadequate petition to the USDOT that failed to include any of the documentation necessary to obtain hearings. As a result, we got the county-by-county fiasco that ultimately split St. Joe and Elkhart counties, among other things. Then, Governor Daniels wilfully violated Section 1 by not supporting St. Joseph County’s petition. Not only did he not support the St. Joe county officials, he actively opposed them. That leaves us with Section 2 repealing the DST exemption, which is all the Governor and Rep. Torr really wanted. Some compromise.
Second, Daylight Saving Time and time zones were completely intertwined in Indiana. Because we didn’t observe Daylight Saving Time, we effectively spent 7 months per year synchronized with the Central Time Zone and 5 months per year synchronized with the Eastern Time Zone. All except for the renegade counties around Cincinnati and Louisville which simply ignored the law and went on Eastern Daylight Time illegally. (Which, itself raises a point in the debate — Gov. Daniels has been saying that we now have two times in Indiana whereas before we had 3. Legally we only had 2 in the past.) Anyway, because our policy on DST put us in Central for 7 months and Eastern for 5 months, a change to DST necessarily constitutes a change in time zones. Rep. Torr’s approach to the debate was to have the discussion ignore the time zone implications as much as possible. As the profound philosopher, Geddy Lee, once said, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” Rep. Torr’s unspoken choice, therefore, was Eastern Daylight Time.
The problem is not with Eastern Daylight Time itself, necessarily — though clearly I would argue for Central Time — the problem is with making the choice implicitly rather than explicitly. By hiding the ball with respect to Eastern Daylight Time, an impression of illegitimacy has been created. Had the legislation specified Daylight Saving Time and designated a preferred time line, then there wouldn’t be a great deal to argue about. As Rep. Torr suggests, if the time zone debate been conducted explicitly, it may have failed. True. But too bad. Honorable failure is more respectable than sneaky success. As it is, Rep. Torr’s legislation has created a roiling time zone mess. If the Republicans lose seats — and possibly the House of Representatives over this — the loss will be based in large part over their failure to be forthright about the time zone issue.