TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas legislator whose 10-year-old son was killed on a waterslide fought back tears Thursday as he calmly urged colleagues to strengthen inspection rules for amusement parks.
The House unanimously advanced the bill on a voice vote immediately after hearing from Republican Rep. Scott Schwab. His son, Caleb, was killed last summer on the Verruckt slide at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas, during an event for elected officials and their families.
Schwab's remarks on the House floor were the first time he has addressed the bill. He didn't speak at any committee hearings.
While other lawmakers spoke, Schwab paced the aisle next to his seat, and his hand shook as he sat back down. When it was his turn, he said he didn't come to the Legislature to grow government or increase regulations but that "you can get to a point where there's just not enough."
"For those who have consternation with the expansion of government, sometimes you just need some," Schwab said.
He said he wouldn't hold it against any colleague who votes against the bill because of concerns about added regulation.
Under the bill, amusement parks would have to have their rides inspected annually by either an inspector certified by one of several national amusement park groups, a certified engineer with two years of experience in the industry with one of those in inspections, or someone who has five years of experience in the industry with two of those in inspections. Ride operators and patrons would also have to report serious injuries to the state.
Kansas already requires annual inspections, but it lets amusement parks do it themselves. The Verruckt slide had passed that inspection.
Rep. John Barker, who spearheaded the effort to draft the bill, called the state's regulations "some of the weakest" in the country. After a hearing on the bill in a committee last week, he compared the self-inspection policy to requiring drivers to report when they break the speed limit.
Barker has said he couldn't be sure the measure would have saved Caleb but that there needed to be oversight.
Schwab thanked his fellow lawmakers for their support after his son's death. He said some sent his family texts or money and that fellow representatives from his county helped him find a lawyer after the accident. But he said the bill wasn't for Caleb.
"It's for the next kid who goes some place in Kansas for a fun weekend," he said.
Schwab tried to keep his composure as he talked about joking with Caleb that summer. "I miss him," he said, softly.
The Schwab family reached an undisclosed settlement in January with the park owners and the manufacturer of the raft that carried Caleb on the slide.
The slide has been shut down, and Schlitterbahn Spokeswoman Winter Prosopio said the park was waiting for a court order before it could tear the slide down.
A final House vote and a Senate vote on the bill could come as early as next week.