For Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, being a state legislator was not that different from working as a technical professional in oil and gas. Rosenthal, who was named Freshman of the Year by the Texas Legislative Study Group, represents District 135, covering parts of the Cy-Fair area, including Jersey Village and Copperfield. He is the only mechanical engineer in the entire body, he said, and one of just two state representatives that are practicing engineers.
Work in oil and gas and his work as a state legislator both require seeing the bigger picture and moving an idea forward among groups of people who may not agree with each other, Rosenthal said.
“It’s so much less about the technical bits and so much more about building consensus, building teams … trying to get people who like to disagree to agree on something,” Rosenthal said about navigating his first legislative session, particularly when it came to committee work.
Rosenthal set out to start a support group for like-minded individuals after the 2016 Presidential election when he noticed political conversations becoming difficult among his circle of friends. As the network grew, and Rosenthal connected with local activists in an effort to promote progressive candidates in the district, he said he decided to run himself.
By the Numbers
Bills authored: 39
Bills joint authored: 14
Bills co-authored: 64
Bills co-sponsored in Senate: 7
Bills joint sponsored in Senate: 1
Notable bills signed into law: SB 1264 (co-sponsored), HB 3 (co-authored)
This session, Rosenthal said he focused on a strong public school system, career education and reforms in the criminal justice system.
Rosenthal was a co-author on House Bill 3, which was signed into law June 12. The bill includes money for free, full-day pre-K for eligible 4-year-olds, pays districts that want to offer merit pay programs for teachers, creates a more complex funding mechanism for educating low-income students and creates a permanent state fund to lower school district tax rates.
Still, Rosenthal said in future sessions he would like to see more comprehensive school system funding to provide more raises to educators and expand on available resources for children with special needs.
Rosenthal said he also wants to push for the expansion of the Texas Innovative Adult Career Education Program to include more services for military veterans. He joint authored HB 1712 and House Resolution 1712, both of which deal with the program’s advancement, but neither were signed into law.
“For every dollar you spend educating people, a monumentally larger amount comes back into the state’s revenue, so it’s an investment, it’s not just spending,” he said.
These pieces of legislation are ones he hopes to advance during the next session, along with HB 595, which relates to increasing a criminal penalty for anyone who makes a false alarm or report to emergency services due to bias or prejudice.
The civil tone of the 86th session was a major reason for so much bipartisan work.
One of the biggest surprises for the freshman legislator was the amount of reasonable debate he could have with his colleagues, even those across the aisle from him ideologically, Rosenthal said. He pointed to HB 3, which provides more than $11 billion to the state’s public education system, as an example of the work that was completed as a result.
Rosenthal’s seat was one of 12 Texas House seats that flipped Republican to Democrat in the 2018 midterm elections. These changes helped foster civil debate, he said. However, he said he thinks it will be essential to get more progressive people serving on different committees next session.
“We want to be in a position to fight for more progressive values,” he said.
The real-life version of the legislative process is more complicated than he expected.
Although Rosenthal said he did extensive research prior to the session, he was surprised at the “politics within the politics” that sometimes slowed down or complicated the process of a bill moving forward through the legislative body.
“It’s not always based on policy,” he said.
Rosenthal said because a bill is only considered by the full House if the Committee on Calendars approves it, he thinks it will be essential to get more progressives on that committee next session.
This article is part of a series where Cy-Fair area lawmakers reflect on the 86 Legislative Session. Find a recap from Rep. Sam Harless, R-Spring, here.