February 21, 2019

House, Senate pass competing bills on time change

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Matthew Reichbach

If the moon turns blue or a million-to-one shot comes in, New Mexico legislators might be able to agree that time marches on.

But, chances are, the Senate and the House of Representatives would still have opposite views of what the clock should say.

Senators on Thursday voted 25-17 for a bill to permanently keep New Mexico on daylight saving time.

Members of the House earlier this week took a stand that’s 180 degrees different. They voted 35-32 to exempt New Mexico from daylight saving time. The House bill would keep New Mexico on Mountain Standard Time year-round.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said the infighting has become so confusing that he prefers keeping New Mexico on its split system — about eight months of daylight saving time and the rest of the year on Mountain time.

But Wirth couldn’t sway enough senators during an hourlong debate that felt redundant, probably because what time it should be is an issue that New Mexico lawmakers have debated almost annually.

Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, is sponsoring Senate Bill 226 for nothing but daylight saving time. Pirtle has been introducing bills to eliminate the twice-yearly system of springing forward or falling back since he took office in 2013.

As a freshman senator, Pirtle introduced legislation to exempt New Mexico from daylight saving time. Now he has shifted his stand and sees daylight saving time as the right way to live.

A father of young children, Pirtle says permanent daylight saving time would give him and thousands of others more hours with their kids.

Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, said Pirtle has it right this time.

Sapien said Pirtle’s proposal really could be called the family time bill. Kids with daylight to burn are more likely to put down their phones and iPads, then go out to play, Sapien said.

The Las Cruces delegation united against Pirtle’s bill.

Two of its senators, Democrats Bill Soules and Joseph Cervantes, said the Las Cruces region has economic interests entwined with El Paso and Mexico. Both said Pirtle’s bill would be bad for business on the border.

“It will wreak havoc for an important part of our state that is doing well,” Cervantes said.

He said Las Cruces is so connected to El Paso that they’re in the same broadcast market.

Soules said he was worried about his region’s military installations being disrupted. It makes no sense for White Sands Missile Range to operate in a time zone different from an airfield in El Paso, he said.

Pirtle said he disagreed with the idea that New Mexico residents aren’t intelligent enough or innovative enough to adjust to permanent daylight saving time.

Residents now cope with time changes twice a year, he said. Switching the clock to gain or lose an hour is disruptive enough to cause auto wrecks and health problems, Pirtle said.

Sen. Bill Payne, reacting to colleagues who said their constituents want permanent daylight saving time, had a different account. Payne, R-Albuquerque, said not a single constituent had contacted about him Pirtle’s bill, which voted against.

More debate about what time it should be is ahead at the Capitol. Each bill now moves to the other chamber for consideration.

If one proposal should prevail and be signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a change to either permanent Mountain or permanent daylight saving time still would require federal approval.

Pirtle likes his bill’s chances. The populous states of California and Florida have approved year-round daylight time, he said, and at least some in their congressional delegations are working on federal authorization for the change.

If New Mexico followed suit, he said, Colorado and other parts of the region might do the same.