Major legislation or just legislative tweaks? The question will soon be answered as the 79th Oregon Legislative Assembly convenes with some new leaders, new faces and a looming deadline.

Republican Sen. Jackie Winters, left, and Democratic Sen. Peter Courtney lead their respective caucuses into a session with new faces, controversial issues and a looming deadline.

The 79th Oregon Legislative Assembly convenes February 5 with some new players, a host of big issues and, as with any 35-day session, a ticking clock.

A raft of retirements and job switches gives the state Capitol a much different look, particularly on the Republican side of the aisle. With longtime Sen. Ted Ferrioli’s appointment to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, Jackie Winters of Salem will take over as Senate Republican leader.

A popular legislator who is one of the longest-serving members of the Senate, Winters was reluctant to run for the position but was pressed by her colleagues to enter the race.

“It’s an honor to have your colleagues elect you to lead them,” she told the Salem Statesman-Journal newspaper. “It’s really an honor when they actually reach out to you to ask you to do this.”

Winters’ caucus will have another addition, but one who knows his way around the corridors of power. Cliff Bentz, former state representative for the sprawling House District 60, takes over Ferrioli’s seat and will serve on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Other notable changes in the Legislature for Oregon’s electric cooperatives include the departure of Republican Reps. Mark Johnson of Hood River, John Huffman of The Dalles and Jodi Hack of Salem.

Businessman Daniel Bohnam replaces Huffman. Jeff Helfrich, who has a spent a career in public service, takes Johnson’s House District 52 seat.

Senate President Peter Courtney also has seen some changes on the Democratic side of the aisle. Richard Devlin of Tualatin—co-chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee—departed the Senate and joined Ferrioli on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

While of different political parties, Courtney and Winters are good friends. But their relationship could be tested as the curtain rises on a Legislature facing some potentially thorny issues, including different versions of legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions, championed by Sen. Mike Dembrow and Rep. Ken Helm.

The two Portland-area legislators are concerned Oregon is not meeting its greenhouse gas goals. They have worked for months on cap-and-invest legislation and convened “clean energy jobs” work groups in the interim to hash out the details.

Oregon’s electric cooperatives participated in the work group process throughout the fall and made several suggestions on how to improve the legislation.

“We appreciate the willingness of Sen. Dembrow and Rep. Helm to address many of our concerns,” said ORECA Executive Director Ted Case. “However, we remain vexed that the state of Oregon is focused on reducing carbon in some sectors of the economy while increasing carbon through their risky and costly plan to spill more water over the federal dams for fish passage.”

Case explained that Oregon’s spill plan is estimated to generate 840,000 metric tons of carbon which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, has the greenhouse gas emissions of 180,000 passenger vehicles for one year.

For his part, Sen. Dembrow believes rural Oregon will benefit from his proposal.

“Rural Oregon is the front lines of climate change,” he said at a joint House-Senate hearing to discuss cap-and-invest legislation. “We see this program as a way to invest in significant ways in rural Oregon.”

With a looming deadline, the debate over cap and invest will begin on the first week of the session.

“The long session in the odd years is a marathon,” said Case. “The 35-day is a dead sprint.”