Kansas Lawmakers Consider New Regulations After Water Slide Death
A Kansas legislative committee is considering tighter amusement park regulations following the death of a lawmaker’s son last year on the Verrückt water slide in Kansas City, Kan.
The Aug. 7, 2016, death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab, son of Rep. Scott Schwab of Olathe, prompted Rep. John Barker to look into the state’s regulations for amusement park rides. Barker is an Abilene Republican who chairs the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, which had a hearing Thursday on new regulations proposed in House Bill 2389.
“It’s the nature of the tragedy,” Barker said. “A young child gets killed at an amusement park, that’s concerning to everyone.”
Barker and other lawmakers didn’t like what they found when they compared Kansas regulations to those in other states.
“We don’t have much of anything right now,” said Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican. “Kansas is really under-regulated in this industry.”
HB 2389 would set standards for insurance, ride inspections and injury reports and would require annual inspections for stationary rides like the Verrückt. These checks would be performed by inspectors paid by the insurance companies, not the ride owners.
Current state law requires annual inspections for stationary rides, but the ride owners can hire private inspectors.
Whitmer, who has experience in the industry, said legislators face a balancing act when considering new regulations so they don’t put Kansas ride operators at a competitive disadvantage. He wants to see regulations put in place but said he can’t support the bill in its current form.
The bill likely will undergo changes as debate moves forward. The bill requires ride inspections from a licensed engineer or someone with five years of inspection experience. Whitmer said he’ll clarify what types of engineers could perform the inspections.
“If I’m a train engineer, I’m not qualified to inspect a carnival ride,” he said.
The bill also would require a qualified inspection every time a mobile ride is moved and assembled. That sounds like too much to Zachary Wilson, owner of Fun Services of Kansas City, a company that rents mobile rides.
“Are we going to have a qualified inspector on the clock at midnight for a 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. party? That seems a little burdensome,” he said.
Wilson would like to see the bill amended to allow inspections by people with industry safety training and certifications. He said they could be more knowledgeable than engineers.
“Then you put somebody in there that’s familiar with the rides,” Wilson said. “You’re much better off.”
Barker said he doesn’t know if the new regulations could have prevented the death of Caleb Schwab, but he hopes the changes will prevent future injuries.
Barker has worried about the safety of rides when taking his grandson to the county fair, and he believes the changes the bill requires can calm those fears.
“I don’t know if they were inspected or not. After we pass this legislation, I will know that it’s been inspected,” he said.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service.