State Rep. Bob Flider, D-Mount Zion, says a law he sponsored will give consumers the chance to have their voices heard by the state regulators who will decide whether the utilities get increases worth a combined total of $247 million.
If approved at the full amount, the new rate charges would raise average AmerenIP power bills by 8.5 percent and average gas bills by 11.6 percent.
Speaking at a recent news conference hosted by the Decatur-Macon County Senior Center, Flider touted the law - signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich in August - that allows the public to address members of the Illinois Commerce Commission face to face.
The commission decides whether to allow the whole increase, part of it or none of it, and its decision isn't expected for at least a year. The commission always has had public comment sessions when considering rate cases, but, previously, the public could not speak directly to commission members. Now they will be able to go to regularly scheduled commission meetings - usually two a month - and vent their feelings.
Flider also wants the commission to hold a "community meeting" in Decatur so people who can't make it to the commission's Springfield offices would have their say. A commission spokeswoman said it would "not be unusual" for the commission to hold public comment hearings in different towns, but those meetings are held by commission representatives, not the commissioners themselves.
Flider also is circulating petitions urging the commission to reject the entire $247 million rate increase. Addressing a 40-strong audience at the news conference, he said now is the time for ordinary people to "step up" and make their voices heard.
"The new law gives you an opportunity to look into the eyes of the Illinois Commerce Commission members and say how the rate increase will affect you," Flider said. "You can tell them you would like them to consider the impact on your household, your community or your business. People are suffering out there; people are having a hard time making ends meet."
Sitting in his audience was Decatur woman Shirley Coburn, who came to listen with husband, Argyl.
She liked the idea of being able to stand up and tell the commission about her strong opposition to the proposed rate hikes - as long she had time to practice a bit, first.
"I do get tongue-tied," said Coburn, 70. "But I'd like to speak about this because people can't afford it; it's hard on people."
Beth Bosch, a spokeswoman for the commission, said meeting rules were changed to allow public participation at commission meetings.