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Kansas House Panel Considers Tighter Regulations After Water Slide Death

Hugo Phan

A Kansas legislative committee is considering tighter amusement park safety regulations following the death of a lawmaker’s son. Caleb Schwab died last year on the Verruckt waterslide in Kansas City, Kansas.

The death prompted Republican Rep. John Barker to look into the state’s regulations. He chairs the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, which held a hearing on new regulations Thursday.

“It’s the nature of the tragedy. A young child gets killed at an amusement park, that’s concerning to everyone,” Barker said.

Barker and others didn’t like what they found when they compared Kansas regulations to other states.

“We don’t have much of anything right now,” said Republican Rep. John Whitmer. “Kansas is really under-regulated in this industry.”

The bill under consideration sets standards for insurance, ride inspections and reporting injuries. There would be annual ride inspections for stationary rides. These checks would be performed by inspectors paid by the insurance companies, not directly by the ride owners.

Current law requires annual inspections for stationary rides, but the ride owners can hire private inspectors.

Whitmer, who has industry experience, says they’ll need a balancing act when they’re considering new regulations so they don’t put Kansas ride operators at a competitive disadvantage.

The bill will likely undergo changes as the debate moves forward. The legislation requires ride inspections from a licensed engineer or someone with five years inspection experience. Whitmer says he’ll purpose clarifying what types of engineers could perform the inspections.

“If I’m a train engineer, I’m not qualified to inspect a carnival ride,” Whitmer said.

The bill would require a qualified inspection every time a mobile ride is moved and assembled. That seems 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,” Wilson said.

Wilson would like to see the bill amended to allow inspections by people with industry safety training and certifications. He says 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.”

Committee Chairman Barker said he doesn’t know if the new regulations could have prevented the death of Caleb Schwab, but he hopes the proposal could prevent future injuries.

Barker says he has worried about the safety of rides when taking his grandson to the county fair, and he believes the bill 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,” Barker said. “I think every grandparent worries about that.”