After protests by the hospitality industry, Washington state legislators have amended a bill that would have prohibited state agencies from holding meetings in hotels or private facilities.

“Thanks to the calls you made to your lawmakers, we were successful,” wrote Jan Simon Aridj, president and chief executive officer at the Washington Lodging Association, in a letter to members. “House Bill 1371 no longer contains any restrictions on state agency use of private facilities for meetings,” she said.

Initially, House Bill 1371 said state meetings must be held in public facilities whenever feasible. The move was part of an effort to reduce Washington state’s budget deficit, which is projected to be over $4 billion for the two-year budget period from July 2011 to July 2013.

Hospitality industry officials in the state, including those from hotels and convention and visitors bureaus, lobbied against the measure, saying the bill would have a negative impact on employment and would hurt the economy, and that it wouldn’t cut costs. They argued that public facilities sometimes have higher rental rates than hotels and often have less room for negotiation. “When you require state employees to use public facilities, that means there is no competition,” said Aridj.

The message got through. On April 22, lawmakers introduced an amendment to HB 1371 striking the following statement: “Meetings that require a member’s physical presence at one location must be held in state facilities whenever possible, and meetings conducted using private facilities must be approved by the director of the Office of Financial Management.”

“Common sense prevailed,” said Aridj. “That was a direct result of having a lobbyist who is really committed to our industry and our issues, and having a membership that, when they get a call to action, pick up the telephone or send an e-mail.”

The amended bill now enters the special legislative session for approval. Action is expected within the next few weeks.