AUGUSTA – Maine would join its neighbors in the Canadian Maritime Provinces if a bill endorsed Wednesday to move the state to the Atlantic time zone becomes law.

“I actually came into the hearing thinking I’d be voting against the bill,” said Rep. Chris Barstow, D-Gorham. “The arguments, pro and con, convinced me to vote to advance it.”

Barstow is House chairman of the State and Local Government Committee that voted unanimously to approve the bill to put Maine in a zone that’s an hour ahead of the Eastern time zone. An amendment added by the committee stipulates that if Maine were to adopt Atlantic time, there would be no more clock changing to account for daylight saving time in the state.

Barstow said that was one of the arguments in favor that he liked. He also liked the fact that by staying on daylight saving time, people here could save money on their energy bills.

Rep. Sonya Samson, D-Auburn, admits the bill seemed like a waste of time when she first heard about it.

“I think we all just looked at each other and rolled our eyes. At first, it seemed frivolous,” Samson said Wednesday. “But then we heard about the merits of it and it seems like the impact would be huge.”

An extra hour of light each night would mean less fuel consumption, Samson said. She cited benefits to agriculture and fishing as well as the elimination of the twice-yearly hassle of changing the clocks back or forward.

The downside: placing Maine in a different time zone would set the state apart from its closest New England neighbors.

“We understand we’d be an hour off from our neighbors,” Samson said. “I understand that could cause problems. But I think it bears scrutiny.”

Samson, Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, and Rep. Roberta Muse, R-Fryeburg, serve on the committee Barstow leads. The panel was unanimous in sending the bill to the full Legislature for a vote.

Rotundo and Muse couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Wednesday night.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kevin Glynn, R-South Portland, said, “It would be like staying on daylight saving time year round.”

If his bill makes it through the Legislature, it would be sent to voters in 2006. That was another thing that Barstow liked about the measure.

A referendum, he said, would allow for a fuller discussion of the advantages and disadvantages.

If the state’s voters OK the measure, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation would be asked to change Maine’s time zone. Supporters acknowledged that persuading Mainers to switch time zones may not be easy. Many if not most may view the proposal as an unnecessary change to the comfort of the current system.

“I think there will be some chuckles and snickers,” Samson said. “But I think when people look at the merits, they’ll say, wow. There may be something to this.”

Glynn said there are many advantages to having the extra hour of sunlight, such as fighting the winter blues, saving energy and allowing the state’s businesses to begin an hour earlier.

Residents of Glynn’s district who said they saw less evening sun than people in other states prompted the Republican to submit his bill.

“I found out that what my constituents were telling me was 100 percent accurate. In Maine, the sunset occurs almost an hour earlier than the balance of the country,” Glynn said.

The situation occurs because Maine is the only U.S. state that finds itself shifted into a time zone to its west, he said, adding, “Maine is squarely in the wrong time zone, it should be in the Atlantic time zone.”

Brian Lee Crowley, president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies in Halifax, said the bill is another signal of the ever-growing links between Maine and the Maritimes.

“I think it’s a very positive sign of the increasing extent to which people in Maine see their future and their economy tied to the Maritimes,” said Crowley, a proponent of the Atlantic trade corridor that would include the Atlantic provinces, southern Quebec, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and northern New York.

Rep. Ross Paradis, D-Frenchville, near the border with Edmundston, New Brunswick, co-sponsored the bill. He said he once considered proposing the move but never thought there would be any support in southern Maine.

“We’d be completely in sync with the Maritimes,” Paradis said.

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