SPRINGFIELD — As Illinois sees more frequent and severe heat waves, residents behind on their utility bills in the summer could be at risk of life-threatening consequences. State Senator Mattie Hunter is leading a measure through the Senate to further protect vulnerable citizens from having their gas or electric service disconnected during extreme heat.

“With hotter temperatures and more days of extreme heat each year, people are facing an increased risk of heat-related illnesses,” said Hunter (D-Chicago). “This bill will ensure families do not lose access to lifesaving cooling methods during period of high heat, even if they are behind on paying their bills.”

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, warning or advisory. 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.

“Families cannot be left without access to critical utilities during the hottest days of the year,” Hunter said. “Ensuring residents can use fans or air conditioning at home is not only a matter of comfort, but of public health and safety.”

House Bill 1541 passed the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee on Thursday and heads to the full Senate for further consideration.