Compelled by the death of a 10-year-old boy on the Verrückt water slide in Kansas City, Kan., lawmakers last month passed a law with stricter inspection requirements and increased oversight for amusement rides across the state.
The bill passed with near unanimous bipartisan support in April and was set to take effect in July.
But now there’s a chance the law may not take effect for another year because of concerns that carnivals and rides that would have to meet the law’s stiffer requirements are unprepared for the changes.
That’s left lawmakers scrambling to consider a revision to the newly passed law they say would give both amusement rides and the state agency overseeing them more time to comply.
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The bill asking for the delay is waiting for a vote in the Kansas House. It’s unclear if it will pass this session. The House was scheduled to debate the delay Friday, but pulled back from that plan and instead adjourned for the weekend.
Earlier Friday, the family of a toddler who was injured last week at a Wichita carnival announced that she had died. Pressley Bartonek, 15 months old, may have been shocked by a live wire around a bounce house, family members have said.
The new law would have applied to that carnival ride, said Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican.
The Kansas Department of Labor, which oversees amusement rides, has asked the Legislature to delay the law from taking effect as planned July 1.
“So many people looked at this all along,” said Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican who helped push the initial changes through the Legislature. “But the Department of Labor didn’t weigh in until late.”
But a department spokeswoman said in an email late Thursday that the department raised concerns before and after passage of the original legislation.
“The concern from many private operators is their ability to go through the new certification and permitting process in time to avoid a disruption in park operations,” department spokeswoman Barbara Hersh said in an email.
Hersh said the state will be prepared to meet the July 1 implementation date.
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, said he planned to oppose the effort to delay the effective date. He criticized those who are unprepared to usher in the changes this year.
“Summertime is when these parks have the most activity and the most opportunities for the bad things to happen,” Ward said. “As soon as that tragedy happened last summer, there was no reasonable person in the state that didn’t know safety regulations were coming.”
The law passed last month requires rides to have a valid annual permit from the state.
Barker said the effort to tweak the law was needed “after the Department of Labor said they (would) not issue any permits because they don’t have the permits. That would have closed down all the summer carnivals.”
“Well, we haven’t (had) really much regulation forever,” Barker said when asked about the possible delay. “And so at least we’re going in the right direction.”
Caleb Schwab died in August on the 17-story water slide at Schlitterbahn water park. His father is Scott Schwab, a state representative from Olathe who was at the park with his family on elected officials day, when lawmakers and their families received free admission. The ride has never reopened and will be torn down.
At the time Caleb died, amusement rides in Kansas were allowed to be self inspected.
Supporters of the new law, which included Caleb’s father, grew emotional as they advocated for more scrutiny for amusement rides. Gov. Sam Brownback signed the bill into law soon after it was passed.
Whitmer, who played a key role in shaping the legislation, said a delay would give the state and ride operators time to comply.
He said he was concerned by a provision in the law that creates a criminal penalty for operating a ride without a license.
“There’s some hesitation about delaying it,” Whitmer said. “But you have to be reasonable and try and give people a chance to comply.”
A staffer with Schwab’s office said the Olathe Republican declined to comment on the new bill and effort to delay the law from taking effect.
House Majority Leader Don Hineman, a Dighton Republican, said earlier this week that he supports the effort to delay the law’s implementation by a year, noting that he was concerned about how the new law would impact certain carnivals.
“It creates a pretty large problem for the home-owned carnivals,” Hineman said. “Both the inspection and the insurance part are really problematic for them. At least give them a year to adjust and to see if it’s workable for those home-owned carnivals. And if not, we’ll have to delve into it deeper next year.”
Asked if passing another bill to delay a new law was common, Hineman said, “There are times we don’t get it right the first time out.”
The Wichita Eagle’s Daniel Salazar contributed to this report.