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Like many Rhode Islanders, we are confused by the recent decision of Superior Court to require “mediation” of the Rhode Island Retirement Security Act of 2011.
After months of research, hearings and debate, the General Assembly overwhelming enacted and Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee signed the act into law. RIRSA secured the retirement of thousands of Rhode Islanders and stabilized our state retirement system in a process that was transparent and fair for employees, retirees and taxpayers. This law has saved the state more than $300 million and our municipalities more than $100 million in the first year alone.
In June 2012 several parties, principally the unions that represent public employees, brought five lawsuits alleging that RIRSA was unconstitutional because it breached the contractual rights of the retirees. One of those lawsuits is now before the judge who issued the recent ruling requiring mediation.
Based upon our research of both federal and state court rulings, we believe that RIRSA clearly is constitutional.
We base this belief on a significant body of law that holds that a statute does not provide contractual rights to those whom it benefits unless it expressly states that the formation of a contract was intended (termed by jurists the “unmistakability doctrine”). Both the United States and Rhode Island Supreme Courts have adopted the doctrine.
Citing the unmistakability doctrine, several courts applying Rhode Island law, including the R.I. Supreme Court, have already found that the state statute that provides retirement benefits to those that retire from state employment is not a contract. Even in the unlikely event that the R.I. Supreme Court overturns prior precedent and finds that the pension statute is a contract, this still would not mean that RIRSA was unconstitutional: It would still be constitutional if it reasonably carried out a legitimate public purpose.