Many proposed laws seek to move New Hampshire forward but one being considered today that wants to move us sideways –  into the Atlantic time zone. The bill (HB209) would shift New Hampshire away from the time zone used by New York City and Washington, D.C., to the one used by the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, and would do away with the twice-a-year clock switcheroo of daylight saving time.

New Hampshire would only make the temporal move if Massachusetts does it first.

“This was a constituent request,” said Carol McGuire, a Republican from Epsom. She co-sponsored the bill with Keith Murphy, R-Bedford, who received a similar request independently from one of his constituents.

“The constituent said changing time zones is a nuisance, and I understand Massachusetts is looking into it. I looked into it and thought, Oh, that’s interesting!” McGuire said.

The idea of New England adopting Atlantic standard time has been floated more than once, and drew attention most recently in a 2014 Boston Globe opinion column by health advocate Tom Emswiler.

Emswiler argued that Eastern standard time isn’t suitable for New England because we’re on the eastern edge of the time zone, which is centered on 75 degrees west longitude, roughly the location of Philadelphia.

That means our clocks are shifted relatively far away from the patterns of daylight, as is obvious when the sun sets as early as 4:11 p.m., as it did on Christmas Day.

Shifting to Atlantic time would move sunset about an hour later, and Emswiler argues the extra daylight during working hours this would help people’s mental and physical health. It could also do away with the need for shifting into and out of daylight saving time, because we’d be more in sync with the sun.

Emswiler’s piece lead the Massachusetts legislature to create a study, which in turn prompted interest in neighboring states, including Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Rep. McGuire said this is at least the third time the legislature has considered shifting time zones, but the first in which following Massachusetts is required, so that New Hampshire wouldn’t end up in a different time zone than the Boston area.

The bill had a hearing Thursday before the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee, which is expected to vote on it next week.

Even if the bill passes, shifting time zones requires federal approval.

There are drawbacks to the shift. For one thing, it would also push sunrise as late as 9 a.m. in mid-winter, putting the morning commute and trips to school in the dark.

And there might be unintended economic impacts of moving away from the eastern edge of a time zone.

One study by University of California at San Diego researchers compared similar cities located at the eastern vs. western ends of various time zones. It found a correlation between earlier sunset times in communities on the eastern edge of time zones and higher wages and productivity.

The researchers argued this happened because people go to bed earlier when the sun sets earlier, thus get more sleep and become more productive the following day.

In other words, shifting New Hampshire to the western edge of Atlantic standard time might end up in use sleeping less and earning more.

Official times zones date back to an international conference in 1884, and were prompted by the spread of railroads, which for the first time created the need to synchronize clocks between far-flung communities. Before then, most cities had their own time based on when noon occurred locally; at one point, there were more than 300 different “official” times in the United States.

The continental U.S. was divided into four times zones as part of the global system. The use of daylight saving time was established in 1918, after its adoption as a fuel-saving measure in Germany during World War I.

One minor aspect of the proposed New Hampshire bill is that it would bring New Hampshire law into complicance with federal law concerning how time zones are defined.

Current state law defines our time zone by geography (“based on the mean astronomical time of the seventy-fifth degree of longitude west from Greenwich”), but in August 2007 the federal government ditched that method, and now define time zones strictly by their distance from the Greenwich observatory in England, the zero point for the global time system. The proposed New Hampshire bill would make that change.

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