- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A historic blizzard dumps more than two feet of snow in some parts of Rhode Island and a watchdog group says three of the five top spenders in Rhode Island state races during the 2014 election cycle were candidates who helped bankroll their own campaigns. Here are things to know this week in Rhode Island:



Rhode Island came to a standstill as it was hit with one of the state’s top five snowstorms on record. Schools, government offices and most businesses closed. Flights were canceled, bus service stopped, and a travel ban imposed by Gov. Gina Raimondo kept most cars off the road. Providence County was hit the hardest, with 28.5 inches of snow in Burrillville. In Providence, a foot-and-a-half fell. At the Newport Shipyard, Rhode Island’s tall ship, the Continental Sloop Providence, was toppled by strong wind gusts and sustained extensive damage. Raimondo says she’ll ask the federal government to help pay for the storm cleanup. On a lighter note, the head of Moses Brown School took inspiration from the movie “Frozen” to announce a snow day. Matt Glendinning sang the announcement to students to the tune of the movie’s best-known song, “Let It Go.”



Three of the five top spenders in Rhode Island state races during the 2014 election cycle were candidates who helped bankroll their own campaigns. A new analysis by the Center for Public Integrity shows Democratic gubernatorial candidate Clay Pell spent $1.3 million, while Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Block spent about $605,000. Both lost in the primary. The watchdog group says Seth Magaziner spent $505,000 to help win the race for general treasurer. John Marion, executive director of the open government group Common Cause, says Rhode Island voters seem to prefer candidates who can demonstrate a broad base of support with many smaller donors.



Education officials say Rhode Island’s high school graduation rate rose to 81 percent in 2014. That’s a 1 percentage point improvement over 2013 and a 5.5 point improvement since 2009. The dropout rate declined to 8 percent, which is an improvement of 1 percentage point over 2013 and a six point improvement since 2009. Gov. Gina Raimondo praised students, teachers and school leaders for their efforts to raise the graduation rate and ensure students build skills to compete in the modern economy.



Former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez went on trial this week on murder charges as his ex-teammates got ready to play in the Super Bowl. Prosecutors are arguing that DNA on a shell casing and a marijuana cigarette as well as a security-camera video from Hernandez’s own home connect him to the crime. Hernandez’s lawyer counters that police and prosecutors locked in on the NFL player as a suspect early on, ignored evidence and conducted a sloppy and unprofessional investigation. Hernandez is charged in the 2013 shooting death of Odin Lloyd, a 27-year-old semiprofessional football player who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancee. The judge said jurors can watch the Super Bowl on Sunday, provided they leave the room if Hernandez, who has also pleaded not guilty in a separate double homicide case, is mentioned during the broadcast.

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