PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Even if a proposed settlement is announced in the legal challenge to overhauling public pensions in Rhode Island, the wrangling over the landmark 2011 law is likely a long way from over.
A proposed deal could be announced as early as Friday, when both sides of the case have called a news conference to update the public on the negotiations. The details of a proposed settlement were to be released Wednesday, but the announcement was abruptly cancelled by the federal agency overseeing mediation in the case.
The sweeping changes passed in 2011 raised retirement ages and suspended pension increases to save billions of dollars in future costs to the state and its municipalities. The case has been in closed-door federal mediation for more than a year, and those involved in the talks — Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Treasurer Gina Raimondo and top labor leaders — won’t discuss the details, citing a gag order imposed on the negotiations.
Any settlement would require legislative approval and the endorsement of the union members and retirees who sued to block the law. It all adds up to a complicated process that could take months.
‘‘Complicated cases lead to complicated approval processes,’’ said Bob Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association-Rhode Island, one of the unions challenging the pension law.
Many lawmakers have expressed frustration with the secretive nature of the negotiations — and the prospect of revisiting a complicated and divisive issue they had hoped to put behind them.
House Speaker Gordon Fox, who was briefed on a settlement proposal on Monday, has called the process ‘‘strange and unusual’’ but said lawmakers will give any settlement proposal the consideration it deserves. But he cautioned that the process could take time — and that a vote on a potential settlement might not even occur before lawmakers adjourn for the year sometime this spring or early summer.
There’s also the chance lawmakers might seek to make changes to the deal, which, depending on their significance could fundamentally alter the settlement.
‘‘They might like points A, B and C but not D and E,’’ said former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders Jr., who is now a partner at the law firm of Hinckley Allen. ‘‘Then there’s the political aspect of this: what is the public reaction? What effect will that have on legislators? It’s hard to predict how long this might take, but there are certainly a number of hurdles to clear even after the negotiators come up with a proposal.’’
On the other side, it would be up to union members and retirees to decide whether they can live with a settlement, or whether they'd rather take their chances in court. The process for how these votes would occur has not been detailed, but it’s likely to be complicated.
‘‘Multiple trains running on multiple tracks,’’ Walsh said. ‘‘But they would all have to get to the same station.’’