Wichita leaders on Tuesday postponed a vote on new measures aimed at better safeguarding children on inflatable rides.
Most City Council members said they support tougher restrictions. But they questioned a provision that would likely have denied a new license to a Wichita businessman whose license was suspended in May.
"We've already been punished — whatever you want to call it — for 90 days," said Duane Zogleman, owner of Moonwalks For Fun Inc.
"I don't want to be persecuted for something that happened before this ordinance was enacted. It's not fair."
Zogleman owns inflatable equipment operated by Pure Entertainment, a facility near Kellogg and Tyler, where a 5-year-old boy suffered a fatal fall in March. In May, the council suspended his license for 90 days, saying he did not properly inspect the rides.
Zogleman said he plans to reapply for a city license and reopen Pure Entertainment in about 30 days, when the suspension is lifted.
"It's always been our goal to have a fun, safe place for kids in Wichita," he said Tuesday. "We're really excited about our new grand opening."
But a provision in the proposed ordinance says license applications may be denied if "the applicant, in the last two years, has violated the requirements of this chapter."
Council member Paul Gray said the provision amounted to "a de facto two-year suspension" for the business, and he could not support it.
"Did anybody on this board know they were putting this company out of business for two years (by issuing the suspension)? I know I didn't," Gray said.
Council members voted unanimously to send the ordinance back to city staff for revisions. They are expected to vote on it next month.
During discussion and public comment, some council members and others said new regulations likely would not prevent accidents like the one that killed 5-year-old Matthew Branham on March 22.
Police said the boy and several older family members were on an inflatable unit known as King of the Hill during an "open bounce" session. At some point, the 5-year-old flew over an inflatable barrier surrounding the ride and hit his head on a concrete floor.
"You can't protect everybody and everything," Gray said. "We're doing some good things in here, but inspections... wouldn't have made any difference" in the accident.
"We have people inspect hot tubs and pools, but it isn't going to stop someone from drowning. ... We're doing everything we can, but we're not going to save the world with this."
The amended ordinance would toughen ride inspections and require anyone operating inflatables — including nonprofit groups that own rides and families who rent them for private parties — to be trained in proper setup, safety and emergency procedures.
It also would require inspection and safety information to be posted near inflatable rides and would allow police to cite people who use rides in an unsafe manner. That violation, a misdemeanor, would carry a fine of up to $500 and 30 days in jail.
Many of the proposed changes mirror a state law that regulates portable amusement rides. The state law, however, exempts inflatables.
Kurt Schroeder, Wichita's superintendent of central inspection, said his department should be able to enforce the new measures without adding inspectors or additional staff time.
"We need to make sure that if the public is using these rides, they're not going to get hurt," Schroeder said. "And that someone who's operating it knows what they're doing."
Council member Janet Miller asked why the revised ordinance does not require independent, third-party inspections of inflatable rides. It requires only that inspectors be licensed by the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials, which requires annual training.
"That seems a questionable practice to me," Miller said. "I'm not aware of other businesses that are allowed to inspect themselves."
Schroeder said state law doesn't require third-party inspections for portable amusement rides.
"It's OK as long as we get the appropriate documentation," he said.