Editorial Roundup: Nebraska

Lincoln Journal Star. February 10, 2024.

Editorial: Changing clocks annoying? Might fixes be worse?

Likely you’ve heard of the “law of unintended consequences”: Anything we humans do yields effects we don’t intend or expect.

That’s true over time. And about time, too, which probably best explains this week’s demise of Unicameral efforts to find some way for Nebraskans to stop changing their clocks twice a year.

Senators rejected a bill seeking to move us toward year-round daylight time, after declining Bayard state Sen. Steve Erdman’s bid to take our option under federal law to adopt year-round standard time instead.

They’ll leap into time’s briar patch once more if they take up Sumner Sen. Teresa Ibach’s resolution asking Congress to shift the Central-Mountain time-zone line west to the eastern Colorado and Panhandle borders.

Would it be, as one senator said during the DST debate, a waste of time?

We’d say yes. Why?

Unintended consequences. That most infuriating of all laws.

“Economists and other social scientists have heeded its power for centuries; for just as long, politicians and popular opinion have largely ignored it,” writes one Rob Norton on the Econlib website (that’s short for “economics library”).

So it seems with the unintended consequences of time-law changes. Recent Telegraph stories have suggested some, since we west central Nebraskans face time annoyances, uh, all the time.

We don’t just move our clocks an hour one way in March and the other in November. We change them when we cross the time-zone line from North Platte to Ogallala, Wallace to Grant, Palisade to Wauneta, McCook to Benkelman, etc. And vice versa.

From 1918 until the federal Uniform Time Act of 1966, the Central-Mountain line ran just west of North Platte. When railroads invented standard time in 1883, the line essentially ran through our old Union Pacific depot. Folks here complained then, too.

The 1966 law set up our DST clock-changing routine. But it also moved the time-zone line, setting off regional howls not quieted, sort of, until 1969.

North Platte’s leaders briefly revolted against year-round DST imposed during World War II. Congress tried it to save energy in winter 1974 but backed off as some kids going to school in the dark got hurt or killed in collisions with cars — an unintended consequence.

Yes, standard time better matches our circadian rhythms. But if Nebraska did it year-round and Colorado and Wyoming didn’t, our Mountain Time counties would fall an hour behind them and the rest of Nebraska during tourist season.

Motorists between North Platte and Denver would have to change clocks twice within 50 miles, first back and then forward again. Unintended consequence.

Shifting our time-zone line west would put all the Wauneta-Palisade school district in a single time zone. But it would split Brule and Big Springs, who share South Platte Public Schools. Also unintended.

Here on Earth, we exist in the same moments of time. But we’ll never experience day or night at the same time. Time zones, daylight time and the International Date Line are imperfect devices to deal with that.

We can adjust them, sure. But history says you might not like the unintended consequences any better.