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Ride inspections proposed

ST. PAUL - Carnival ride operators are lined up behind a proposal to toughen inspections after a highly publicized accident last summer hurt two girls.

"I am the one who is the most sickened by what happened," said John Magel of Pine City, owner of the Zipper ride that two 14-year-old cousins fell from in July.

Earlier last year, 15 riders were hurt on a Twin Cities' Valleyfair amusement park roller coaster.

In an interview, Magel said the Minnesota bill would make few changes in state law, but strengthening ride inspections would help.

House and Senate committees tweaked the proposal Wednesday. There was no indication when it could reach a vote in the full House or Senate.

Magel said one problem with the proposal is increasing insurance requirements for ride owners. Under a bill by Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, owners would have to carry $2 million worth of liability insurance. That is too costly, Magel said.

The measure also requires all rides to pass inspections before they operate in the state.

Inspectors may come from one of two independent agencies that provide the service. The state would not inspect them, but could shut down rides if the Labor Department decides they are dangerous.

Inspections are important before rides operate in the state, said John Schultz of the state Labor Department. However, he added, those inspections may occur in another state, as long as they are conducted by one of the certified inspection agencies.

Ride owners or operators must inspect rides at least twice a day under the bill.

Sen. James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, said injuries and deaths could have been prevented had inspection requirements been tightened earlier.

"I'm not a big rules guy..." he said. "But I think in this area, we need some help."

Magel said the Hinckley accident did not occur because of an unsafe ride.

"It arose from operator error," he added.

The proposal requires that operators be trained.

Very few accidents occur on Minnesota rides, St. Cloud-based ride owner Randy Forcier said. Like Magel, he said he likes stronger inspection rules.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.