Judge gives initial OK to RI pension settlement

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Sarah Taft-Carter March 2015_160208

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Nearly 60,000 Rhode Island public-sector workers and retirees are starting to receive notices about the proposed pension settlement and how they can object to it.

R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter gave preliminary approval to the settlement proposal last week. She also certified various groups of workers and retirees as classes for the purposes of ending the pension litigation through a class-action settlement.

“The proposed settlement is the result of good-faith, serious, arm’s-length negotiations between the parties,” Taft-Carter wrote in her decision, saying it “appears to be fair and within the range of settlements that could be worthy of final approval as fair, reasonable, and adequate.”

The settlement would end a union-backed legal challenge to the 2011 state pension overhaul, which saved taxpayers roughly $4 billion by reducing future retirement benefits. Under the terms of the settlement, retirees and some workers would receive small increases in their benefits in exchange for dropping their lawsuit.

John Tarantino, a lawyer for the state, said the next step in the process is for the formal notifications about the settlement to be mailed out by the pension system to workers and retirees. Anyone who wants to object to its terms can contact the judge directly or request to be heard at an upcoming “fairness hearing.”

Tarantino described the fairness hearing, scheduled to start May 20, as “kind of like a little mini-trial,” in which the two sides will discuss their cases and why they think the judge should give the settlement final approval. Workers and retirees who disagree will be allowed to make statements in court objecting.

Tarantino estimated the fairness hearing could last for three days, but said the actual duration will depend on how many people want to speak and how the judge determines the procedure.

After the fairness hearing, there will be two steps remaining before the settlement would be final: the judge would need to give it final approval, and the General Assembly would need to pass legislation amending the pension statute to match the terms of the settlement. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has suggested it may be included in the annual state budget bill.

The settlement notice makes clear workers and retirees cannot opt out of the settlement – if the judge approves it, all of them will be bound by its terms. The exception is about 700 public-safety personnel who are either active members of any police union or the Cranston fire union; their unions refused to join the settlement.

The judge is scheduled to resume preparation for a trial regarding those unions’ claims on June 8.Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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