Government & Politics

In aftermath of Verrückt death, Brownback signs amusement ride bill

There will soon be more oversight of amusement rides in Kansas in the wake of Caleb Schwab’s death on the world’s tallest water slide.

Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill Monday that ushered in a bevy of changes to the state’s amusement ride law after the legislation passed the Kansas Legislature with strong bipartisan support.

Caleb, the son of state Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican, died in August riding Verrückt, a 17-story water slide at the Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas City, Kan.

Lawmakers successfully pushed to increase requirements for amusement rides in the state by passing a bill that calls for rides to be examined by experienced inspectors.

The legislation also makes changes to insurance requirements, includes registration and permit fees, and requires an investigation if a death on an amusement ride is related to a major malfunction.

“Oh, I’ll be signing it,” Brownback told reporters Monday morning before his office officially announced he had signed the legislation. “As I said all along, I was going to follow Scott Schwab’s lead on it, and this is something he’s been pushing, so I will be signing it.”

Lawmakers began a public push in March to change the state’s amusement ride law.

“After doing the research that we did in January, seeing that we had the weakest regulations and statutes in the surrounding states, it was time that we visited the issue,” said Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican. “I think we’ve done a very good job.”

Schwab briefly spoke in support of the bill before it passed the House with near unanimous support.

The bill wasn’t about Caleb, he said.

“It’s for the next kid who goes someplace in Kansas for a fun weekend,” Schwab told House lawmakers.

Only three lawmakers in the Kansas Legislature voted no on the bill changing the state’s amusement ride law.

Rep. Jack Thimesch, a Spivey Republican, said he couldn’t support the bill because of the impact it could have on local events, like a carnival in his district.

He opposed the bill because his constituents asked him to, Thimesch said.

“The inspection deal, you don’t want to put anybody on a ride that’s unsafe,” he said. “But to that same point, you know, when it has an age limit and a height limit and a weight limit, that has nothing to do with inspection of how the piece of equipment runs. It has to do with being responsible for your grandkids or your kids to put them on that ride if you know they’re not old enough, tall enough or heavy enough.”

Under the revised law, rides will have to be reviewed once a year by the experienced inspectors defined in the legislation.

Rides will also have to be inspected on a daily basis by the operator.

Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican, told colleagues earlier this month that the Kansas law that was in effect when Caleb died worked more like a registration process, rather than an inspection process.

Verrückt has been closed since Caleb’s death and will be demolished.

“We’re glad that he signed the amusement park bill,” said Winter Prosapio, spokeswoman for Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts. “We think that these are common-sense measures, and we hope that they do increase safety.”

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw