TGIF, everyone! I hope you all had a good week. I’m Winston Gieseke, philanthropy and special sections editor for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, bringing you the latest headlines from this great state of ours.

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$100B surplus: Newsom expands budget to utilize California tax money, federal dollars

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday proposed a $268 billion state budget that is one-third larger than the state’s current spending plan, fueled by surging state tax revenues and federal stimulus money.

The first-term Democrat called his spending plan an “unprecedented generational and transformational budget.”

The plan includes $35 million over five years to pay for “universal basic income pilot programs.” Also included are plans to provide Medicaid benefits to people 60 and older living in the country illegally.

In addition, Newsom said he wants to spend $11 billion to build what his office termed “a modernized transportation system for the next century.” That includes not only repairing decayed roads and bridges, but more spending for the state’s troubled bullet train, other public transportation, the state’s ocean ports and projects around the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

His proposal is driven by more than $100 billion in surplus funds, a combination of surging state tax revenues and $27 billion in federal stimulus money. The surplus is part of $267.8 billion in proposed general spending and other special and bond funds, up $46 billion just since his initial January budget and $66 billion over current spending.

Should prison staff be allowed to refuse COVID vaccine?

The Golden State is working toward herd immunity. However, there are some 37,000 state prison workers who remain unvaccinated. In 30 of 35 institutions, less than half of the employees are fully vaccinated, and less than 3% of staff are waiting for their second jab, statewide data says.

Byrhonda Lyons, writing for CalMatters, says 57% of California prison employees are declining free COVID vaccinations, according to May 10 data from the California Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.

Active COVID cases inside California prisons have slowly declined since peaking in late December 2020, around the time the system rolled out its voluntary vaccination program for inmates and staff. In the past two weeks, state data shows just 14 COVID cases reported among California prisoners — compared to 108 cases among prison staff.

As a result, in a recent statement filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland as part of a class action suit, attorneys for prisoners asked that staff vaccinations become mandatory.

Advocates point out a precedent: The University of California is requiring all students, faculty, and staff on its campuses be vaccinated before returning this fall.

Should the same be required in California prisons? Read more here.

How do we commemorate those we lost in a year without funerals?

When a loved one dies, a funeral or celebration of life is a way to help bring about closure. But what happens when someone dies during a global pandemic? It definitely changes the dynamic, notes Desert Sun columnist Maria Sestito, who, sadly, knows first-hand about the subject.

While many have opted to hold Zoom memorials, others have chosen to wait, hoping to hold a “proper” in-person event later — although not knowing when later will be.

Grieving during a pandemic is a “fragmented process,” according to Palm Springs resident Karen Blinkinsop, who lost her husband, Robert, last fall after a long battle with cancer.

Since the family knew Robert was dying, they had some time to prepare. Instead of holding a Zoom memorial, Karen decided to create a memorial website in honor of her husband, who was able to choose the background music for the site ahead of time. The idea was that when he died, friends and family would be able to post photos and remembrances in perpetuity.

She also purchased a memorial bench in his honor at the Wellness Park, just a short walk from their home. “I like the idea of a permanent place to go gather your thoughts in a place where you feel nature,” she said.

Sestito, who understands this subject all too well, also writes movingly about her brother, who died during the pandemic. Read the full piece here.

Did a California woman wash a $26M lottery ticket down the drain?

It’s every lottery player’s nightmare: Winning a gazillion dollars (in this case, $26 million) and not being able to find the ticket.

That may have happened to a woman who showed up at an AM/PM convenience store in the Los Angeles suburb of Norwalk on Wednesday, claiming the winning ticket had been in her pants pocket when she laundered them. Oops!

The Guardian reports that the winning ticket has not been claimed by anyone else. (The deadline to collect was Thursday.) And the manager of the store said surveillance video revealed the woman had indeed purchased a ticket. In addition, she is known to store workers.

The claim will be investigated, said a lottery spokeswoman.

Noah, Olivia are once again top baby names in California

If you’re about to welcome a baby into your family and you like to follow trends, consider naming your child Noah or Olivia.

KTLA5 reports that federal data released Thursday says these are the most popular baby names in the Golden State for the second year in a row.

Noah has been at the top of the list of boy’s names since 2014 (second place: Liam), while Olivia replaced Emma as No. 1 among girls in 2019. (Second place: Camila.)

It’s interesting to see what inspires naming trends. For example, the name Gianna jumped to 7 from 52 in California this year, likely inspired by the name of Kobe Bryant’s daughter, who perished along with her father in a January 2020 helicopter crash.

According to the report, the data comes from Social Security card applications. Interestingly, different spellings of the same name are not combined in the ranking.

And in case you’re wondering (as I certainly was), the name of Elon Musk’s son, X AE A-XII, did not make the list. Maybe next year.

That’s all for now. Have a safe and informed weekend.

In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today network newsrooms. Also contributing: The Guardian, KTLA5. We’ll be back in your inbox tomorrow with the latest headlines.

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

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