Kansas lawmakers put off debate on delaying new ride rules

Kansas legislators who have considered delaying tougher regulations for amusement parks abruptly canceled a debate Friday following the death of a toddler who was injured at a carnival in Wichita.

The House had been scheduled to debate a bill that would delay the new regulations for another year, until July 2018. The rules include tougher inspection and injury-reporting requirements and were a response to the death last summer of state Rep. Scott Schwab’s 10-year-old son, Caleb, on a giant waterslide at the Schlitterbahn park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Despite the near-unanimous support in both chambers only last month, some lawmakers still harbored misgivings that the rules could hurt small county fairs and carnivals. The Department of Labor asked for a delay so that it would have more time to develop a new permitting process and out of concern that some operators couldn’t comply with the new rules by July.

But on Friday, The Wichita Eagle reported that the parents of 15-month-old Pressley Bartonek issued a statement through a Wichita hospital that the young girl died from injuries suffered May 12 at the local carnival. Family members told the newspaper she was swinging from a handrail in front of a ride and may have been shocked by a live wire.

Republicans were circumspect about why the debate was canceled, with House Majority Leader Don Hineman of Dighton saying, “We just decided to wait for a different day.”

But Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, said it was because of the announcement of the toddler’s death, reported before the debate was to begin.

“It might have been in poor taste,” Ward said.

It wasn’t clear when the House might debate the bill. Some lawmakers were floating proposals to set the effective date of the new rules for Jan. 1, 2018, or sometime in the fall, rather than for July 1, 2018. A provision of the new rules makes it a misdemeanor for parks or carnivals to operate rides without a state permit.

Kansas law has allowed parks to conduct their own annual inspections of rides. The new rules will require them to be done either by a certified engineer with two years of experience with amusement parks, an inspector certified by one of several national boards or someone with five years of experience with amusement parks that include two years of inspecting.

The new regulations also require parks to report injuries to the state.