In California: Death penalty faces major review. And a teen advises against pushing bears.

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I'm Winston Gieseke, philanthropy and special sections editor for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, wondering how we made it to June this quickly. It's amazing how time flies when you're 13 days away from the seeming end of a quarantined life as we know it. Let's look at some of today's headlines.

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Death penalty in California faces critical test

The death penalty in California could be on the precipice of a dramatic change. On Wednesday, the state's Supreme Court began hearings on whether to raise the bar for when a jury can sentence a defendant to capital punishment, a decision that could affect pending cases and potentially reverse death sentences for the 704 inmates already on California’s Death Row.

The landmark hearing follows Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order on Friday mandating an independent investigation into the case of Death Row inmate Kevin Cooper, who was convicted in 1985 of a quadruple murder but continues to maintain his innocence.

California’s reexamination of the death penalty comes amid a fraught debate over public safety in the wake of a string of mass shootings and a surge in gun violence. A lot of political futures — including Newsom’s — could be on the line.

The governor angered some Californians — including Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward — by ordering a halt to the death penalty in 2019, just three years after voters rejected an attempt to end capital punishment. Recall organizers cite the order as a key reason to vote him out of office.

A recent poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies found that while 44% of California voters support repealing the death penalty, a sizable 21% remain undecided.

In other Newsom news, some California labor unions representing workers in manufacturing, retail, grocery stores, hospitality, health care and other businesses announced their support this week for the governor as he faces a likely recall election.

The California Labor Federation delivered the endorsement Tuesday on behalf of 2.1 million workers and 1,200 affiliated unions on the steps of the Capitol, blasting the recall and Newsom's competitors as “anti-worker."

The news conference aimed to show unity among organized labor after Richard Louis Brown, the incoming president of SEIU Local 1000, said his huge state-workers union would not support the governor under his leadership. The union's board of directors scheduled an emergency meeting for Wednesday to discuss a $1 million donation to Newsom, ahead of Brown taking office as president later this month.

Art Pulaski, head of the labor federation, said Newsom kept workers safe during the pandemic by distributing personal protective equipment and helping essential workers access vaccinations. They praised him for signing legislation that required workplaces to report outbreaks and expanding paid sick leave for people who contracted coronavirus.

“It makes no sense to attack the one person who gets up every day with the intent of keeping the state safe and keep it moving forward,” said Jacques Loveall, president of UFCW Local 8, which represents supermarket and drug store workers.

New legislation could protect trans dependents of military members

Veterans Tony Viruetta and Jimmy Panetta attend a Memorial Day ceremony in Soledad on May 27, 2019.
Veterans Tony Viruetta and Jimmy Panetta attend a Memorial Day ceremony in Soledad on May 27, 2019.

A new piece of legislation, introduced by U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Central Coast), could ensure that members of the military with transgender or gender non-conforming spouses or children are stationed only in areas where they can receive gender-affirming healthcare.

Supporters of the Armed Forces Transgender Dependent Protection Act said it was a question of equality and safety for trans dependents. Passage of the legislation could also protect military parents from facing criminal charges or losing their children for supporting their transition and/or gender expression.

A Texas representative recently introduced a bill that would charge parents of trans or gender non-conforming children with child abuse for providing their children with gender-affirming medical treatment. The bill died in the House.

"No family should be forced to choose between a sense of belonging and continued service to the nation," said Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO and co-founder of the nonprofit military spouses group Blue Star Families.

Update: California firefighters had 'workplace beef' before fatal shooting

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaks Tuesday during a news conference after a shooting at a fire station near Santa Clarita, Calif.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaks Tuesday during a news conference after a shooting at a fire station near Santa Clarita, Calif.

A Los Angeles County firefighter appeared to have a longstanding job-related dispute with the colleague he shot and killed at their small, rural fire station, authorities said Wednesday. The killing is California's second deadly workplace shooting in less than a week.

Preliminary interviews with other employees at Fire Station 81 indicate the shooter and the firefighter who was killed had "some workplace beef," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt. Brandon Dean, who is overseeing the homicide investigation.

He said investigators will comb through the fire department's personnel files to see if any official complaints had been made or disciplinary actions had been taken before the bloodshed.

Storytellers Project tackles race and ethnicity

To more fully tell the stories of all Americans, the Storytellers Project, part of the USA TODAY Network, on June 9 is launching a new series of storytelling nights called "I Am" — five nights of true storytelling celebrating the ways race and ethnicity weave through American identities. The series is an effort for empathy, encouraging viewers to look around and connect more with the members in their community who may seem different but are, in fact, their fellow Americans.

The "I Am" series gives a magnified look into the lives of Black, Middle Eastern, Asian, Latinx and Indigenous Americans on a virtual stage all their own, sharing stories only they can tell. The "I am Hispanic" show will feature Austin American-Statesman Executive Editor Manny Garcia, L.A.-based Black/Brown Collective Managing Director Charlie Echeverry and Latina magazine founder Christy Haubegger, executive vice president of communications at WarnerMedia in Los Angeles. The event will be held virtually at 4 p.m. Pacific time on June 9. Register to watch for free here. For more information, head on over to USA TODAY.

Teenage bear-pusher: 'Don’t do what I did'

When 17-year-old Hailey Morinico saw a bear in her backyard going after her dogs, she didn't even flinch.
When 17-year-old Hailey Morinico saw a bear in her backyard going after her dogs, she didn't even flinch.

A video of a California 17-year-old pushing a bear off a fence to protect her dogs went viral Tuesday and has been viewed more than 68 million times.

The clip showed a bear climbing over a concrete fence in Bradbury, Calif., and lunging at several dogs in the backyard. Hailey Morinico runs to the bear and, without hesitation, pushes it off the fence.

Many viewers praised the young woman's quick reaction, saying she "handled the bear like a warrior."

However, Morinico, who said she pushed the animal only hard enough to make it lose its balance, told KTLA 5 pushing bears is not a good idea. “Don’t do what I did," she said. "You might not have the same outcome.”

The National Park Service also doesn't recommend pushing bears. The first thing to do is speak calmly so the bear realizes you are human. It also advises making yourself look as big as possible by moving to higher ground. If the animal stays still, you can slowly walk away, sideways, keeping an eye on it as you move.

NBC News reports that Rebecca Barboza, a wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said it appears the dogs provoked the encounter and as a result, no action will be taken against the bear.

In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today network newsrooms. Also contributing: KTLA 5, NBC News. 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

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Death penalty faces critical test, and major labor unions back Newsom

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