- Associated Press - Saturday, February 22, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The governor creates a new climate change task force, winter takes a toll on salt stockpiles, and mayors criticize a proposal to end the legal fight over the landmark 2011 pension law. Here are five things to know in Rhode Island:


Mayors from cities and towns throughout the state are criticizing the closed-door talks that yielded a proposed settlement in the legal challenge to the state’s 2011 pension overhaul. The proposal, if approved by unions, retirees and lawmakers, would increase the amount cities have to set aside for pensions, beginning with $11 million more in fiscal year 2016. The mayors, who were not part of the settlement negotiations, said they should have been consulted about the deal. Several say the state should find ways to help them absorb the costs. The settlement would roll back some of the changes in the 2011 pension law, which aimed to save taxpayers billions in future decades.


The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the city of Cranston in federal court over its decision to count state prison inmates on its voter rolls, alleging that it is skewing political influence in Rhode Island’s third-largest city. The ACLU notes that a quarter of the 13,000 people counted as residents of Cranston’s 6th Ward are inmates at the Adult Correctional institutions and aren’t eligible to vote. When the 3,400 inmates are subtracted, the 6th Ward’s population is significantly smaller than other wards - even though each ward has a representative on the City Council and the local school board. City officials said they’re reviewing the lawsuit.


Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed an executive order Friday creating the Executive Climate Change Council, a new task force that aims to coordinate the state’s response to rising sea levels, an increase in extreme weather and other effects of climate change. The council will include representatives from the state’s environmental, health, transportation and energy departments. Sea levels in Rhode Island are already rising and are predicted to go up another five feet over the next century. Chafee said the state and its municipalities need to begin planning now in order to respond.


Providence officials said the city is out of salt and Rhode Island’s Department of Transportation is running low as the winter drags on. Both the city and the state are awaiting a new shipment of salt that is supposed to arrive early next month. Until then, they’re using sand to improve traction on the snow and ice. The state DOT has used 126,000 tons of salt to fight snow and ice so far this winter, compared with an average of 85,000 tons in the past five winters.


The General Assembly took a week off for winter break but is set to reconvene Tuesday. Lawmakers plan to hold several in-depth hearings on Chafee’s proposed state budget. Much of the conversation may focus on the new proposed pension settlement - though any votes on the deal are likely months away. Lawmakers hope to adjourn in late spring or early summer.

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