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Homeland security, wild horses among topics at governors conference

LAS VEGAS – Western governors gathered Friday for a conference in Las Vegas, just two days after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, put a renewed emphasis on homeland security.

For the governors, it was too soon to say what policy changes, if any, will come from the attacks that took the lives of 14 victims. But security is paramount.

Gov. Brian Sandoval told reporters the National Guard will be on hand at the Strip on New Year’s Eve and noted he signed gun legislation earlier this year to improve the system. He made his comments at the Western Governors’ Association, which started its two-day winter meeting Friday in Las Vegas.

“There are more people here in Las Vegas than there are in New York,” he said of the upcoming event. “So we have to be extremely vigilant.”

At least 1,500 local law enforcement will be on hand for New Year’s Eve on the Strip, he said.

Asked about gun laws in Nevada, including private sales of guns without background checks, Sandoval said he believes the state’s law is sufficient.

But, he added, “At any time there is a tragedy like this we have to stop and pause and see what we do here.”

Sandoval said he’s taken steps in Nevada, including signing legislation to make gun laws tougher for those with prior convictions and addressing the backlog of courts cases that haven’t been entered into the state’s system. A law Sandoval signed this year prevents anyone convicted of domestic abuse, even a misdemeanor, from owning a firearm.

“We’re still finding out facts as to what was the cause of this,” Sandoval said of the California attack.

The group also approved a resolution, planned in advance of the terrorist attacks, tied to security. It calls for expanded use of pre-clearance operations of international travelers and others at overseas airports. That process bases U.S. Customs officials at the airports overseas to screen passengers before they leave for the U.S., boosting security and taking the burden off of small airports in the U.S., the WGA said.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, a former federal prosecutor, said it’s too soon to comment on the cause and effect, but added that mental illness and terrorism remain important issues.

“I think too often we rush in terms of what was the cause, what was the reason,” he said.

Issues specific to the West are part of the conference, such as land management and wildfire management.

Sandoval asked Interior Secretary Sally Jewell about what can be done about the wild horse issue, noting the population has caused accidents and impacted the landscape.

Jewell said that by law the horses cannot be killed. The population has grown to about 100,000, with roughly half now in holding pens.

Jewell said the government will continue to work birth control methods, noting that the horses are “very good at reproducing.”

“We believe that birth control is a path forward that will help satisfy people that feel passionately on both sides of the issue,” Jewell said.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @BenBotkin1.

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