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A gas tax break and new laws take effect Saturday in Florida

Close up view of four gasoline pump dispensers
The break on the price of gas is part of a larger tax package signed by the governor in May.

Prices at the pump for Florida motorists should go down Saturday as part of a temporary gas-tax break, as 27 new laws kick in this weekend.

The new laws include measures aimed at preventing protests outside people’s homes and cracking down on “street takeovers” where vehicles do stunts such as “wheelies” and “doughnuts.”

Under the tax measure, criticized by some Democrats as an election-year stunt by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican lawmakers, motorists will avoid paying the state’s 25.3-cents-a-gallon gas tax in October.

GOP legislative leaders said they decided to provide the tax break in October because it is a time when fewer tourists are in Florida than during other months. The gas tax helps pay for transportation projects, and lawmakers directed $200 million in federal COVID-19 stimulus money to make up for the lost tax revenue.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has promoted the tax break as helping offset rising fuel prices and inflation. The gas-tax move was part of a larger tax package (HB 7071) that DeSantis signed in May.

The average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas in Florida hit a high of $4.89 on June 13, but prices steadily declined during the summer, with the average at $3.39 on Thursday, according to the AAA auto club.

“It's gone down, which is great. But a lot of that is just because demand pulled back because it was so expensive,” DeSantis said during an Aug. 31 appearance in Live Oak.

DeSantis, who is running for re-election in November, initially asked lawmakers to provide a gas-tax break for six months.

“I wanted to do it over the summer, as well. The Legislature thought, I think wrongly, that that was mostly tourist (traffic),” DeSantis said during the Live Oak appearance. “There’s more tourists. But it's still 90 percent that would go to Floridians. So, that's why they wanted it once we get past Labor Day and into the fall. But the bottom line is, you know, we're delivering a (tax) holiday for people.”

The Tallahassee-based group Florida TaxWatch called the discount “much-needed relief” but cautioned against making it permanent.

“It’s not a long term-solution,” TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro said Tuesday. “We really need that money to continue to build infrastructure and to meet the bond obligations of our road building.”

It’s unclear how Hurricane Ian will affect gas prices.

In a statement Monday, AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins said that since the storm was not “projected to impact the refineries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, it's unlikely that the storm itself or the resulting demand, would cause pump prices to spike."

President Joe Biden on Wednesday pointed to White House projections that Hurricane Ian has disrupted about 2 percent of domestic daily production and cautioned energy companies against using increased hurricane-related demand in Florida to hike prices.

“This small, temporary storm impact on oil production provides no excuse for price increases at the pump,” Biden said during the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health.

Among the other new laws that will hit the books this weekend are a measure (HB 1571) that makes it illegal to picket or protest outside a person’s home “with the intent to harass or disturb that person in his or her dwelling.”

The law allows police to charge people with second-degree misdemeanors if they do not peaceably disperse after being warned about protesting.

When the proposal was first presented in February, a Senate staff analysis pointed to gatherings outside the homes of Florida’s U.S. senators, a Brevard County School Board member, the Central Florida home of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted in the 2020 murder of George Floyd, and the North Port home of the parents of Brian Laundrie, who murdered his fiancée Gabrielle "Gabby" Petito.

By the time DeSantis signed the bill on May 16, supporters focused on protests outside the homes of U.S. Supreme Court justices after the leaked draft of an opinion that later overturned the Roe v. Wade abortion decision.

Another new measure (HB 399) expands a law barring drag racing by including stunt-driving events that block traffic on roads and in parking lots. In part, the law also includes definitions for such things as a “doughnut,” “drifting,” a "burnout,” and a “wheelie.”

Another law (HB 95) taking effect Saturday, increases prison terms for trafficking in fentanyl and makes it a first degree felony for dealers when methamphetamines result in death. The bills were passed during the legislative session that ended in March.