Politics & Government

Lawmakers approve delaying tighter amusement ride regulations

Stricter regulations of amusement rides won’t go into effect until January 2018 — instead of this summer — under a bill passed by lawmakers.

The House voted 107-14 Thursday to keep a law containing new regulations that was passed earlier this session from fully taking effect next month. The proposal is headed to Gov. Sam Brownback after passing the Senate 33-6 on Friday.

The senator who carried the bill on the floor was uncertain whether the new regulations would have had a bearing on the death of 15-month-old Pressley Bartonek in Wichita last month. Police officers investigating outside the carnival bouncy house where the girl was electrocuted found an industrial light and a power box that were not insulated. The light was used to light up the bouncy house at night.

Police reports say both the light and power box were plugged in with extension cords. The base of the light was sitting in water, and the light pole was touching a metal guardrail. The girl was electrocuted when she touched the guardrail.

“It would depend on what actually caused it,” said Sen. Bud Estes, R-Dodge City. “There would have had to been something wrong with the ride that literally did it, not an extension cord or that fence. I guess I can’t really say.”

He added a short time later: “An inspection isn’t going to determine when somebody plugs that in wrong or has a cord laying in water. That’s not really part of this. They’re going to be looking at the safety designs of these machines.”

Sen. Lynn Rogers, D-Wichita, voted against the delay.

“I think she is as important to this state as any other child, and I think it’s very, very important that we do this, and we do it quickly,” Rogers said, referring to Bartonek.

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 in metro Kansas City. Caleb’s father is Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe.

Schwab also voted against delaying the new regulations.

Brownback signed a bill with the additional regulations in April after it passed with near unanimous support.

In that bill, lawmakers agreed to include 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.

But last month, concerns were made public that carnivals and rides were unprepared to meet the requirements of the new law.

House Majority Leader Don Hineman, R-Dighton, 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.”

Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, said the amended bill bars the state’s labor secretary from enforcing the act until rules and regulations are published. It also requires the secretary, Whitmer said, 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.

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, voted against the bill. He said it represented an unnecessary delay of safety regulations.

“We can only hope and pray that no other child is killed or injured between now and the first of January,” Carmichael said.

Contributing: Tim Potter of The Eagle

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw