Bud Kennedy

A new law to stop an old bar trick

State Rep. Ramon Romero Jr.
State Rep. Ramon Romero Jr. Special to the Star-Telegram

For years, Fort Worth vice officers prowled seedy bars to arrest strippers “soliciting drinks.”

It was a new crime in the 1970s and ’80s but a very old pursuit: Employees, usually women, would beg customers to buy them drinks, and later the customers found out they had bought a nonalcoholic beer or sparkling water for $50.

The old Star-Telegram headlines are filled with arrests of “b-girls,” or bar girls: 28 in one roundup, 11 in another, all under a state law and city ordinance prohibiting employees from asking customers to buy them drinks.

But just as suddenly as the crackdowns began, they went away.

That is, until state Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, persuaded this Texas Legislature to pass a bill prohibiting fichera bars, the Spanish term for a very familiar nuisance.

“It was almost unknown, but these ladies are told to work as ‘hostesses’ and drink 25 or 50 beers a night on somebody else’s tab,” Romero said Tuesday as his bill outlawing the practice awaited action by Gov. Greg Abbott.

“These fichera bars led to sex trafficking and forced labor.”

He named two examples, a bar on East Lancaster Avenue and another near his Polytechnic Heights neighborhood.

“Women are at risk, and the bar owners make all the money,” he said.

His solution: Instead of arresting workers, House Bill 3982 penalizes bars charging anyone more than a “listed, advertised or customary” price.

The old law had become difficult to enforce in an age when some strippers and servers are not employees but so-called independent contractors.

“It surprised a lot of people in Austin, but it’s still going on all over the place,” Romero said.

The bill helped Romero win Democrats’ Freshman of the Year award.

In his first term, he passed two bills.

That’s two more than some local Republicans.

Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

Twitter: @BudKennedy