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Gianforte signs daylight savings bill; states to petition feds for permanent time zone

Senate Bill 254, sponsored by Sen. Mary McNally, D-Billings, authorizes year-round daylight savings time, though it must be approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Six other Western states have now passed similar legislation. (William Munoz/Missoula Current file)

While it’s too soon to set the clock and leave it forever, Montana moved one step closer to permanent daylight savings time this week after Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill authorizing the move.

Senate Bill 254, sponsored by Sen. Mary McNally, D-Billings, authorizes year-round daylight savings time, though it must be approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“Either there has to be legislation in Congress to authorize states to observe daylight savings year round, or there’s a clause involving the Department of Transportation, which has the ability to approve states transfer to that. That might be the more likely path.”

While the proposal has surfaced many times in the past only to fail in the end, this legislative session, the measure had the support of surrounding states. Six states in the West have passed legislation allowing permanent daylight savings time.

They include Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. Only four surrounding states are needed to adopt the act and create a unique time zone set on permanent daylight savings time.

“What’s happened just since 2019, six Western states have passed legislation putting themselves on permanent daily savings time,” said McNally. “They haven’t all enacted it yet. In some cases, it’s enabling legislation, and that’s what this is. There’s a real movement here of states going in the same direction.”

Rep. Katie Zolnikov, R-Billings, carried the bill in the House and said there is no anticipated timeframe on when a unique daily savings time zone would go into effect.

But with Montana now added to a block of contiguous Western states, the years-long effort to stay on permanent daylight savings time is closer than ever.

“It actually unifies us with some other states around us,” Zolnikov said. “All of those states have signed a bill similar to this one, saying if there’s four states around you with this legislation in place, you can form your own block or time zone. We were one of the last states in the region to sign this into law.”

That now gives the the seven states the ability to come together and petition the federal government for permanent daylight savings time.

“We’d go on our daylight savings time all the time,” Zolnikov said. “There are a couple of members of Congress interested in this concept. There is interest in other states to pass federal legislation. It’s one of those cases of what’s going to happen first.”

According to Zolnikov, keeping the clocks set on permanent daylight savings time comes with benefits beyond more hours of light at the end of the day. People shop more when there’s sunlight after work and traffic accidents decrease 13% when its light outside.

Violent crime falls by 7% and accidents involving children after school also fall.

“We still have to switch back in November, but this aims to unify us with the states around us and it gives the states the ability to petition the federal government for its own time zone,” Zolnikov said.