In California: State to offer $116M in coronavirus vaccine prize money

Happy Friday on this holiday weekend! I’m wishing you all a nice Memorial Day on Monday as we honor the women and men who lost their lives while serving in the U.S. military. Interesting fact (as reported by history.com): Memorial Day, which began in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971, was originally known as Decoration Day.

Just one tiny warning: If you’re in the Fresno area and you’re planning to spend time in a city park, be sure not to annoy any lizards there because, believe it or not, to do so is against the law.

I’m Winston Gieseke, philanthropy and special sections editor for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, and I’m just about ready to remove my work hat and chillax. But first, here are some of today’s headlines from the Golden State.

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California to offer $116M in coronavirus vaccine prize money

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announces a massive jackpot as the nation's most populous state looks to encourage millions of people who are still unvaccinated to get their shots.

Californians will be eligible for $116.5 million in prize money for getting coronavirus shots, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday, a windfall aimed at getting millions of additional Golden State residents vaccinated before the nation’s most populous state fully reopens next month.

California isn’t the first state to offer vaccine prizes, though its pot of money is the largest and so is the most valuable single prize: $1.5 million.

The state’s reopening is pegged for June 15, and on that day a drawing will be held to award 10 vaccinated people the top prize. Another 30 people will win $50,000 each, with those drawings taking place June 4 and June 11.

Anyone 12 and older who has received at least one shot will be eligible, regardless of immigration status, Newsom said. Exceptions include those who are incarcerated, non-California residents and other “categories,” such as individuals who work for the state lottery.

People who have received at least one shot are already in the registry for the drawing, he added.

Newsom said more ideas are coming after June 15, but he did not share additional details.

Sports betting initiative, backed by California tribes, eligible for 2022 ballot

Agua CalienteÊResort Casino SpaÊRancho Mirage is open in Rancho Mirage, Calif., on December 19, 2020. Tribal casinos across California remain open despite regional stay-at-home orders from the state.

An initiative that would allow California tribal casinos to offer sports betting became eligible for the ballot Thursday, after more than 1 million signatures were verified by county election officials across the state.

The measure would let federally recognized tribes in California operate roulette, dice games and sports wagering on tribal lands, as long as tribal-state gaming compacts are negotiated with the governor and approved by the state legislature.

Privately operated horse-racing tracks in Alameda, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties also would be allowed to offer onsite sports wagering for those 21 and older, starting in 2022.

California tribes have given millions of dollars in cash contributions to the committee supporting the initiative, called the Coalition to Authorize Regulated Sports Wagering.

However, a number of non-tribal cardrooms and casinos have pushed back against the initiative, and the California Gaming Association, a trade group of licensed cardrooms and vendors in the state, opposes the measure.

“This initiative will not legalize sports wagering in California,” Kyle Kirkland, the association’s president, wrote in a statement to The Desert Sun. “Instead, it expands the tribal casino operators’ untaxed monopoly on gaming without benefit to Californians and prioritizes tribal casino operators’ wealth over the needs of California communities and public health.”

The measure likely will appear on ballots in November 2022.

Suspect in 91 Freeway shootings charged with attempted murder

A busy section of freeway in Riverside County (represented here by a stock image) has been the scene of a series of shootings.

Last week, this newsletter reported on a series of shootings on the 91 Freeway. This week, the Los Angeles Times reports that a suspect has been arrested.

Jesse Leal Rodriguez, a 34-year-old Anaheim resident, has been taken into custody in Riverside and charged with three counts of attempted murder in connection with a rash of BB and pellet gun shooting on the freeway.

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said via statement that Rodriguez was also charged with an additional three counts of assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury.

“Shooting at moving vehicles with a BB gun or pellet gun while traveling at high speed on our roads or freeways is incredibly dangerous,” Hestrin said. “Shooting out windows of cars could easily startle drivers in traffic and cause a major accident. We are all relieved that no one was seriously injured by these crimes.”

Rodriguez is scheduled to be arraigned on Tuesday. He faces a sentence of 90 years to life in prison if convicted of all charges, the DA said.

In other freeway news, the reward for information on the suspects in the apparent road-rage slaying of a 6-year-old boy in Southern California has grown to $310,000, according to NBC News.

Unemployment claims increased in California last week

New weekly unemployment claims, a proxy for layoffs, are an indicator of the health of a state’s economy.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits in California increased last week compared with the week prior, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday.

New claims, which are an indicator of layoffs, rose to 71,787 in the week ending May 22, up from 70,282 the week before, the department reported.

There were 203,262 new claims in California at the same time last year.

U.S. unemployment claims, meanwhile, dropped to 406,000 last week, down 38,000 claims from 444,000 the week prior on a seasonally adjusted basis.

“With businesses less constrained by restrictions, filings should ease further and hiring should pick up as the economy moves closer to normal capacity,” Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, said via email.

Farooqi noted that new claims are still elevated. In the months leading up to the pandemic, there were about 200,000 new claims on a weekly basis. New claims peaked in the pandemic with more than 6 million claims in early April, and have slowly fallen, with some bumps along the way, since then.

Meanwhile in Monterey County, advocates and officials are clashing over pesticide application notifications. On Thursday, Californians for Pesticide Reform, a statewide coalition of grassroots organizers and advocates, held a rally on the steps of the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office, calling for blanket notification of intended pesticide applications. Advocates say that knowing in advance when the hazardous chemicals will be applied near their homes and schools would help residents protect themselves and their families.

Farmworkers pick up irrigation sprinklers early morning in Salinas Calif., on Monday, April 26, 2021.

However, Monterey County’s top agricultural official says he believes advocates will use the notifications to lock growers and county agricultural offices in legal purgatory, wading through countless challenges to what the state and the federal government consider safe, legal pesticide applications.

That’s all, folks. Have a safe and informed holiday weekend. We’ll be back in your inbox Tuesday with the latest headlines.

In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today network newsrooms. Also contributing: history.com, Los Angeles Times, NBC News.

As the philanthropy and special sections editor at The Desert Sun, Winston Gieseke writes about nonprofits, fundraising and people who give back in the Coachella Valley. Reach him at winston.gieseke@desertsun.com.

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