A bill in Washington state that would prohibit state agencies from holding meetings in hotels or private facilities has drawn protests from meetings and hospitality industry executives.

Substitute House Bill 1371, which is being considered in the state legislature, says that state meetings must be held in public facilities whenever feasible. Exceptions are possible, but the director of the office of financial management would have to approve meetings held at hotels, and their associated expenses, such as lodging and transportation. The proposed cutbacks are part of an effort to reduce Washington state’s budget deficit, which is projected to be over $4 billion for two year budget period from July 2011 to July 2013.

Hospitality and meetings industry officials in the state are arguing that the measure is short-sighted. Jan Simon Aridj, president and chief executive officer of the Washington Lodging Association, says the bill would have a negative impact on employment, hurt the economy, and won’t cut costs.

The WLA, along with many of the convention and visitors bureaus in the state, including those in Seattle and Spokane, are lobbying lawmakers to eliminate the restrictions or amend them. “The legislature is trying to do the right thing by holding down costs, but there are unintended consequences,” said Aridj. In many cases, public facilities having higher rental rates than hotels and private facilities, she added, citing one example of a public facility that charges about $300 per hour to rent space.

If the legislature doesn’t eliminate the restrictions on meetings, it should at least change the language to require state agencies to get competitive bids to find the facility that best suits their needs at the best price, said Aridj, noting that hotels will often lower, or even waive, rental rates when groups meet certain food-and-beverage minimums. Public facilities don’t have that same flexibility, added Aridj. “It just makes sense to say to an entity, ‘Get a couple of bids on your meeting.’”

The legislation, which is part of a larger bill, is now with the House Ways and Means Committee. Action on the bill is likely within the next several weeks.