Maureen O'Connell (Assemblywoman, New York State Assembly). 1/28/2005.

As we enter a New Year and the state legislature gears up for another session, several things have changed, but too many have stayed the same. This year, reform will top the list of our priorities, followed by adding new jobs, improving education, creating safer communities across this great state and improving the quality of life for all New Yorkers.

On Jan. 5, Governor George Pataki delivered a positive and inspiring State of the State message to begin the year in Albany. The challenges we face are daunting, but we can overcome them by invoking the spirit of cooperation and optimism reflected in the governor's speech. I look forward to a New Year and a new chance at working together with my conference, the entire Assembly and Senate, and the governor to pass legislation that will benefit everyone and enrich the lives of all New Yorkers.

Recently our conference unveiled "Excelsior 2005: A Blueprint for Growth and Reform in the Empire State." This comprehensive plan lists our goals and priorities for the 2005 legislative session and focuses on five key issues. First up is reform dealing with the state budget, public authorities, Medicaid, mandate relief and Assembly rules. Our second focus will be on jobs. We have proposed expansion of the Empire Zone program, tax relief, enactment of the Small Business Improvement Act of 2005 and reductions in the cost of energy.

We will also focus on education by working to create an equitable school aid formula, restore comprehensive operating aid to school districts and provide mandate relief. Another focus will be on creating safer communities by passing tough anti-terrorism legislation, reducing urban crime and combating the growing methamphetamine problem.

Finally, our conference will focus on improving the quality of life for all New Yorkers. For example, we plan to implement child care cost relief for National Guard families, offer more affordable housing and create a New Americans Task Force.

This year, I will continue to be the ranking Republican member of the Health Committee, as well as sit on the Insurance, Judiciary and Ethics Committees. I feel that these committee assignments will allow me to serve my constituents, as well as all New Yorkers, in a fitting way. As a nurse, I know firsthand the needs of our residents, and as the ranking minority member of the Health Committee, I will work hard to make life better for all New Yorkers.

I look forward to another exciting year, and I am hopeful and optimistic that we will be able to cooperate in making significant changes so our government can be more efficient and our people more prosperous. That way, everyone can benefit from the safety and security we deserve.