Senator Hunter stands at a microphone while on the Senate floor.

SPRINGFIELD — With Illinois facing more days of dangerous heat each year, residents behind on paying their bills risk having their utilities shut off at a time when air conditioning and fans are essential. To protect families from losing access to these lifesaving cooling methods, State Senator Mattie Hunter led a measure that will prevent the shutoff of gas or electricity on days with excessive heat.

“Utility interruptions during extreme heat are dangerous, especially for seniors, individuals with health conditions and young children,” said Hunter (D-Chicago). “Without access to air conditioning or cooling measures, our neighbors are at an increased risk of dehydration, heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses.”

House Bill 1541 amends the Public Utilities Act to prohibit a utility company from terminating gas or electric service due to nonpayment of bills on days when the forecasted temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above, or when the National Weather Service issues a heat watch, advisory or warning for the location of the residence. Currently, the Public Utilities Act prohibits disconnection when the temperature is 95 degrees or hotter but does not account for when the heat index may rise to dangerous levels.

Older adults, young children and people with chronic medical conditions are at high risk of heat-related illness and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 700 people in the U.S. die from extreme heat each year. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke occur when the body is unable to properly cool itself and can happen even if a person is sitting or lying in a hot room.

“Extreme heat is a serious public health issue that disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color,” said Hunter. “This legislation will ensure families are not put in harm's way simply because they are struggling to pay their bills.”

The measure passed the Senate on Thursday.