Government & Politics

Kansas Legislature moves to give amusement rides more time to comply with new law

The Verrückt water slide in Kansas City, Kan., has not been in operation since a death occurred there last August. It eventually will be taken down.
The Verrückt water slide in Kansas City, Kan., has not been in operation since a death occurred there last August. It eventually will be taken down.

A bill sent to Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday would give operators of amusement rides more time to meet stricter regulations called for after a child died on a water slide in Kansas City, Kan., last summer.

The Kansas Senate, on a 33-6 vote, approved the bill that postpones an amusement ride law they had passed earlier this year from fully taking effect next month.

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.

The result was a law, set to take effect July 1, that included 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. Lawmakers moved this week to essentially delay the law from fully taking effect as a result.

The new bill passed the House on a 107-14 vote Thursday.

Schlitterbahn’s tallest water slide is guided by energy, acceleration and the laws of physics.

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 the bill to Jan. 1, 2018.

Whitmer said the amended bill also bars the state’s labor secretary from enforcing the act until rules and regulations are published. He said it also requires the secretary 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.

The child’s death was mentioned by Sen. Lynn Rogers, a Wichita Democrat, as being a reason for not supporting the delay.

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

“What we did today represents an unnecessary delay of safety regulations,” Carmichael said Thursday. “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.

What has become clearer since the tragic death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab is that from nearly the moment the Verruckt was proposed in Wyandotte County, its path to completion was all but assured with almost no outside officials casting a critica

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