For a freshman lawmaker from a small community, Carson City’s P.K. O’Neill had a very good session: all five of the bills he introduced were passed and signed by the governor.
Those bills include the Nevada State Prison museum project, changes to prevailing wage rules, protecting seniors from abuse, expanding the technologies available to criminal investigators and ensuring that teens register with the Selective Service.
O’Neill entered the Legislature with somewhat of an advantage over most freshman. Before retiring from law enforcement, he testified on both issues and his budget as an administrator in the criminal history repository among other assignments. In addition, after retirement, he served as a legislative police officer during the 2013 session.
“It was a different world,” the Republican said. “I thought I knew some things but I still had learning to do and one of the biggest things was control of time.”
He said he had several good mentors to help him learn the process including Sen. James Settelmeyer of Gardnerville and Assemblyman Ira Hansen of Sparks. And, he gave full credit to staff — especially his secretary Mary Bean, for helping him get through.
He said 120 days sounds like a long time.
“But when you look at the seriousness of the issues brought forward and the complexity of them, it’s not a real long time to deal with them go in depth and understand them.”
He said he enjoyed the challenge.
“It was not easy some days making decisions that I knew were going to upset people,” he said.
He compared it to his years in law enforcement where, “you had to make decisions on what was right, not what was easiest.”
That included his vote for the tax package needed to fund the state budget, particularly the education reforms, a vote that has drawn the wrath of the far right even though O’Neill was one of 13 Assembly Republicans — a narrow majority of the 25 member caucus — to do so.
O’Neill said he will run again next year despite the vitriol coming from the right.
“I’m looking forward to running again and will run on my record and explain what I did and the decisions I made,” O’Neill said. “The voters will make the determination whether they agree I did a good job or not.”
Key reasons for that vote include giving state workers a pay raise and eliminating their unpaid furloughs as well as raising “bridge funding” to support Western Nevada College.
The process of getting those five bills through, he said, was an interesting lesson in working with people and compromise.
The bills are:
AB377 opens the way to convert the historic Nevada State Prison into a museum, tourist attraction and potentially a movie set. It gives the NSP Preservation Society a say in the prison’s future and creates three different funds to help pay for the project. O’Neill said it will “have a wonderful effect on the city and the area in general and our economy.” He pointed out that it was also bipartisan, co-sponsored by Las Vegas Democrat Heidi Swank.
AB131 directs the DMV to automatically register eligible men for the Selective Service. He said that is required by law but that Nevada has one of the lowest registration rates in the U.S.
But O’Neill said the consequences of not registering include not being able to get a federal job or qualify for federal student loans. For immigrants, it means never being able to become a citizen.
“The bill says when you get a permit, drive card, identity card, that they will automatically register you,” he said.
AB172 modifies prevailing wage requirements including setting a $250,000 threshold for when prevailing wages are required on a public project. More importantly for the long run, he said, is that it promotes having non-union contractors join the process of determining prevailing wages in different trades. For too long, he said, the unions have pretty much controlled that process, resulting in some very high prevailing wage rates.
AB223 enhances the ability to prosecute those abusing the elderly and vulnerable people. Specifically, he said it adds abandonment to the list of actions defined as abuse by some one legally responsible for a senior or vulnerable person’s care.
AB224 gives criminal investigators access to advanced technologies in identifying and prosecuting suspects. First it allows asking the FBI for information about some one using as few as one fingerprint instead of a full set of prints. For the future, O’Neill said it allows the use of not only fingerprints but other “biometric identifiers” such as palm prints, scars, body marks, tattoos, voice prints, facial images, retina scans and other new technologies. He said Julie Butler of the history repository requested the bill because North Las Vegas was trying to use some of the new technologies but the existing law wouldn’t allow it.
“We worked with the ACLU to make it as acceptable to them as possible,” he said.
While the Republican caucus in the Assembly was often contentious, O’Neill said he thinks members learned that, “at times, hey, we’ve got to give and take.”
“It may be presumptuous of me but I believe I gave the best representation I could to all the constituents in my Assembly District and the state as a whole,” he said.