Government & Politics

Kansas House agrees to delay punishment portion of amusement ride law

Caleb Schwab, 10, was killed while riding the Verrückt water slide in August.
Caleb Schwab, 10, was killed while riding the Verrückt water slide in August. rsugg@kcstar.com

There wasn’t much public dissension earlier this year when lawmakers decided to impose stricter requirements on amusement rides after a child died on a water slide in Kansas City, Kan.

But now, the punishment included in that new law could be delayed.

The Kansas House voted 107-14 Thursday to keep the law passed earlier this session from fully taking effect next month. The proposal still needs to clear the Kansas Senate before it can head to Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk.

The call for tighter regulations on amusement rides came after 10-year-old Caleb Schwab was killed last August while riding the Verrückt, a 17-story water slide at the Schlitterbahn Water Park. Caleb’s father is Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican.

In the new law set to take effect July 1, lawmakers agreed to include stiffer inspection requirements for amusement rides. The law also would give more teeth to what critics had said was a weak state law for amusement rides when Caleb was killed riding the Verrückt, lawmakers said.

Brownback signed the bill into law in April after it passed the Kansas Legislature with near unanimous support.

But last month, concerns were made public that carnivals and rides were unprepared to meet the requirements of the new law.

Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican, said the amended legislation that passed the House Thursday moves the effective date for the criminal offenses portion of bill to Jan. 1, 2018.

The effective date for the law will still be July 1, Whitmer said about the rest of the act.

Whitmer said the amended bill also bars the state’s labor secretary from enforcing the act until rules and regulations are published. It also requires the secretary, Whitmer said, to provide a reasonable amount of time for compliance after those rules and regulations are published.

“What effectively that does is it gives the vendors a reasonable amount of time to comply, but it restricts the secretary from shutting them down effective July 1,” Whitmer said.

Lawmakers were previously scheduled to debate the delay last month, but called off the discussion around the same time the family of a toddler who was injured at a Wichita carnival announced that she had died.

Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat, voted against the bill.

“What we did today represents an unnecessary delay of safety regulations,” Carmichael said. “We can only hope and pray that no other child is killed or injured between now and the first of January.”

House Majority Leader Don Hineman said the issue was a sensitive subject because of the death in Wichita. He voted for the bill Thursday.

“It really put the home-owned carnivals in the smaller rural communities in a big bind if they were going to be held to that stricter standard next month,” Hineman said. “July’s county fair month so backing up the penalty portion of the bill to Jan. 1 really will help them to have more time to prepare.”

Schwab voted against the delay bill Thursday. He voted for the bill with the new inspection requirements earlier this session.

The Wichita Eagle’s Daniel Salazar contributed to this report.

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