After Caleb Schwab’s death on Verrückt, bolster scrutiny of Kansas amusement parks

The science behind Schlitterbahn’s Verrückt

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

Recent reports in The Star have revealed that Kansas has few regulations when it comes to amusement park safety. As with all laws, these are ones that can be improved after intense scrutiny in Topeka.

The death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab on Schlitterbahn’s Verrückt water slide on Aug. 7 has gained national attention.

The incident provides state government officials with good reasons to bolster regulations that will protect amusement park visitors in the future, especially given the fact that no federal rules govern that industry.

Kansas currently severely restricts its oversight role as a watchdog for the public. Essentially, the state Department of Labor requires park owners to hire certified inspectors, who then produce reports filed with the park operators.

Recently, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback indicated that might not be enough.

“I would assume and hope that the Legislature would spend significant time looking at the issue,” Brownback said. “And we will, as an administration, after you get past the sheer tragedy of it.”

The governor’s leadership would be encouraging to see on this issue.

And the fact that the accident involved the son of a state lawmaker, Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican, may give the Legislature even more reason to toughen state guidelines.

Other states including Pennsylvania and New Jersey have much more independent regulations of amusement parks. Both states, for instance, have state-trained inspectors.

However, park operators have resisted increased scrutiny and regulations over the years.

Republican lawmakers have been their allies in many cases, often lashing out at rules they claim destroy jobs, create unnecessary red tape and increase costs on companies.

Just this month, a new online video from U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas attacked Democratic opponent Jay Sidie for allegedly wanting to add “hundreds of new regulations on small businesses.”

No doubt there’s been little shortage of silly rules passed in recent decades by local, state and federal officials.

However, extremely effective regulations also have been put in place. That’s been the case more often than not when it comes to America’s environment, leading to significant improvements in the quality of the nation’s air and water the past four decades.

Stricter federal rules worked out by the government and U.S. car industry also have vastly improved vehicles’ mileage, reducing fuel use and air pollution.

That kind of cooperation could be essential in Kansas as the Legislature looks to enhance rules governing amusement parks.

The owners should be able to present their case for the status quo or limited changes; advocates for much stricter scrutiny can provide their evidence as well.

Given the sharply limited role the state plays now, odds are more public oversight could be a reasonable approach in the future.

The Legislature has the duty to put in place sufficient regulations that protect children plus thousands of others who attend amusement parks every year in the Sunflower State.