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Lawmakers weigh delay to new amusement park law

Lawmakers advanced a delay of a new law intended to strengthen regulations of amusement park rides last week, the day before a toddler was critically injured at a carnival at Towne West.

The law will go into effect on July 1 unless the Legislature votes to push back its implementation; a bill to delay it by a year passed a House committee on Thursday.

A 15-month-old girl was critically injured Friday at the carnival when she was possibly shocked by an electric wire. The girl was swinging back and forth on what her family said was a handrail that had a wire in front of a bouncy house.

A Westar troubleshooter sent to the scene after the incident found that the item the girl came into contact with was carrying 290 volts of electricity, Westar spokeswoman Ebony Clemons said Monday night. The Westar worker stayed until carnival staff made the situation safe, Clemons said. She didn’t know what that work entailed.

The girl’s father said Monday afternoon that his daughter was undergoing tests to determine the severity of her injuries. She remained in severe to critical condition. The Wichita Police Department said it was investigating the incident.

The new law applies to both permanent and traveling rides, including bouncy houses. It requires that rides be inspected annually by a qualified inspector and daily by the operator of the ride. The inspector must be either certified by one of several national boards; a certified engineer with two years of experience in the amusement park field, at least one of those in inspections; or someone with five years of experience in the amusement park field, two of those in inspections. The law also requires parks to report injuries.

Kansas’ previous law allowed parks to do their own inspections.

House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said he would have to hear the rationale for delaying the law. It “makes no sense” to put it off, he said.

“It was clear the public was at risk, and why we would delay and allow that to go on for a year concerns me,” Ward said.

The Kansas Department of Labor regulates amusement parks and will have to develop rules, regulations and permit processes in accordance with the new law.

The agency’s deputy general counsel, J.L. McFarland, said in a statement that the department asked lawmakers to delay implementation over concerns that some parks wouldn’t be able to come into compliance in time.

“We look forward to developing the necessary permitting and registrations systems so that Kansans are afforded the safety protections of the original bill,” McFarland said.

House Majority Leader Don Hineman, R-Dighton, indicated he supports a delay but didn’t say when the House would take up the bill.

“It creates a pretty large problem for the home-owned carnivals,” Hineman said. “Both the inspection and the insurance part are really problematic for them. At least give them a year to adjust and to see if it’s workable for those home-owned carnivals. And if not, we’ll have to delve into it deeper next year.”

Lawmakers pushed for the change to ride regulations after 10-year-old Caleb Schwab, son of state Rep. Scott Schwab, died riding Verruckt, a 17-story water slide at the Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas City, Kan., in August.

Schwab, R-Olathe, briefly spoke in support of the bill before it passed the House with near unanimous support.

The bill wasn’t about Caleb, he said.

“It’s for the next kid who goes someplace in Kansas for a fun weekend,” Schwab told House lawmakers.

Contributing: Beccy Tanner and Tim Potter of The Eagle, Hunter Woodall of the Kansas City Star and the Associated Press

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