Good morning, California. It’s Friday, May 28.

Note: Due to Memorial Day, the newsletter will pause until Tuesday.

More money up for grabs

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday unveiled the country’s largest vaccine incentive program at a high school in Los Angeles — a city in which only 7% of high schoolers have returned for in-person learning — suggesting that he is once again marrying governing and campaigning as a recall election looms in the distance.

The governor’s $116.5 million “Vax for the Win” program includes the following prizes, as CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports:

  • $1.5 million for 10 “grand cash prize” winners picked by random draw on June 15.
  • $50,000 for 30 winners picked by random draw on June 4 and 11.
  • $50 gift cards for the next 2 million Californians to get fully vaccinated.
  • Californians who are already vaccinated are automatically entered in drawings for the first two prize categories.

Newsom said the incentive program is intended to help the Golden State ramp up inoculations before June 15, when the state plans to fully reopen its economy and permit fully vaccinated Californians to go without masks in most situations.

Yet aspects of the program were reminiscent of the ambitious proposals in Newsom’s $100 billion “California Roars Back” stimulus plan, suggesting that the cash incentives are another way for the governor to appeal to voters as he works to fend off an all-but-certain recall election.

And, potentially in a bid to appease California parents frustrated their kids still aren’t back in school, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner opened the press conference by linking Newsom’s vaccine incentives to campuses reopening.

  • Beutner: “I cannot tell you how important this effort is the governor is bringing to our community to make sure we all have access to the vaccine … and all are encouraged to participate.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 3,677,235 confirmed cases (+0.04% from previous day) and 61,855 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 36,904,212 vaccine doses, and 50.1% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

Plus: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. We’re also tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county and lawsuits against COVID-19 restrictions.

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1. EDD claim backlog keeps growing

Image via iStock

Another day, another dataset showing things keep going in the wrong direction at California’s beleaguered unemployment department. The backlog of claims sitting on the Employment Development Department’s desk for more than 21 days skyrocketed to nearly 226,000 on May 22, up from around 199,000 the week before, according to figures released Thursday. It’s the sixth straight week that EDD’s backlog has grown, likely due in part to an increasing number of Californians filing new jobless claims — nearly 72,000 did so for the week ending May 22, according to federal data released Thursday. That’s at least the third straight week California has seen an uptick in new unemployment claims, even as the state reopens and employers add more than 100,000 jobs. Addressing that disparity — and bringing back employees who dropped out of the labor force altogether — will be key for policymakers working to stimulate California’s economy back to pre-pandemic levels.

2. Gear up for fight over sports betting

Image via iStock

Californians would be able to legally bet on Warriors, Dodgers and 49ers games — among others — at tribal casinos and horse-racing tracks if voters pass a measure that qualified Thursday for the November 2022 ballot. It will likely be one of the most high-profile and expensive fights of the year — not wanting to be shut out of a potentially billion-dollar market, card rooms and non-tribal casinos have already funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into the reelection campaign of Attorney General Rob Bonta, who’s tasked with writing the ballot measure title and summary many voters use to make their decisions. Meanwhile, California, which is home to the most professional sports teams in the nation, stands to collect up to $500 million in tax revenue annually if the measure passes. It could have collected even more under proposed legislation that would have allowed sports betting at non-tribal card rooms and on state-sanctioned websites, but the proposal died last year amid tribal opposition.

3. Prison system under scrutiny

A correctional officer walks near a gate, which is one of two entrances into Kern Valley State Prison, in Delano, Calif in 2009. Photo by Ric Francis, AP Photo
A correctional officer walks near a gate at Kern Valley State Prison in Delano in 2009. Photo by Ric Francis, AP Photo

California’s prison system is under fire for conducting a shoddy investigation into what authorities have called one of the most sadistic and heinous slayings within a Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation facility. According to new reports from the state inspector general, two California prison guards falsely reported that an inmate who had been decapitated and dissected by his cellmate in March 2019 was still alive. Multiple other guards and a special agent in charge of the investigation also failed to do their duties properly, and the prison system delayed appropriate disciplinary action, the Los Angeles Times reports. It also remains unclear why the two men — both of whom were convicted killers, and one of whom was known to be sadistic and high-risk — were put in the same cell.

  • The state prison system: “Due to the extraordinary nature and complexity of this case, the department committed to ensuring a thorough and complete investigation. All of the disciplinary actions in this case were served within mandated statutory timeframes.”

The inspector general’s office also found the state prison system acted too slowly in investigating alleged misconduct in dozens of other cases and unnecessarily paid more than $1 million in salary and benefits to employees during the delays, the Sacramento Bee reports.

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CalMatters commentary

Invest in children’s behavioral health: Lawmakers have a chance to fundamentally transform the delivery of behavioral health services over the next five years by passing Newsom’s California Comeback Plan, writes California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly.

Biking toward climate goals: Purchase incentives for electric bikes would put zero-emission transportation within reach for many more Californians, argues Jason Henderson, who teaches urban geography at San Francisco State University.

Don’t point fingers on drought: It would be more productive for everyone to unite in pushing Congress to fund water infrastructure, argues Mike Wade of the California Farm Water Coalition.

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Other things worth your time

Multimillionaire recall candidate John Cox owes consultants from failed gubernatorial bid. // Los Angeles Times

This billionaire is the biggest donor to Caitlyn Jenner’s campaign so far. // Forbes

Los Angeles County D.A. Gascón, Sheriff Villanueva supporters trade barbs as recall campaign kicks off. // Daily News

Crime statistics reported by some California colleges inaccurate, auditor says. // Associated Press

Caltrans, high-speed rail would hire hundreds of workers in Newsom budget. // Sacramento Bee

Mandatory water restrictions coming to Santa Clara County as feds cut supplies. // Mercury News

‘Ammon Bundy coming.’ Federal water cutoffs ignite rebellion in Northern California. // Sacramento Bee

Why Pomona Rep. Norma Torres, born in Guatemala, sleeps with a gun by her bed. // Los Angeles Times

Westminster contract with former Assemblyman Tyler Diep raises questions. // Orange County Register

Long waits plague Sacramento County mental health services. // Sacramento Bee

Mountain lion breaks into Bay Area house filled with taxidermy trophy heads. // SFGATE

See you Tuesday.

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Emily Hoeven wrote the daily WhatMatters newsletter for three years at CalMatters . Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco...