AG nominee Lynch in Tampa as Bentley is sworn in

Jerome R. Stockfisch, (@JStockfischTBO)

A. Lee Bentley III was formally sworn in as U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida on Thursday, but much of the attention at the federal courthouse and a later reception centered on one of his guests, whose appointment as U.S. Attorney General is languishing on Capitol Hill.

Loretta Lynch, chosen by President Barack Obama to succeed Eric Holder as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, and Bentley became acquainted through her leadership of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, the voice of U.S. attorneys to the administration. She declined to comment Thursday on the skirmish over her confirmation.

Lynch would be the first African-American woman to hold the office. Her credentials have not been questioned, but a highly partisan Senate has delayed a vote since her selection in November.

Republican Senate leadership has criticized Lynch for her support of the legality of Obama’s 2014 executive action on immigration that protects 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. This week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said he will not let Lynch’s nomination come to a vote without Senate passage of an unrelated human trafficking bill. That bill has been held up by an ani-abortion provision.

Recent vote tallies have put her confirmation at a 50-50 tie, with four Republicans joining the 44 Democrats and two independents in support. That means Lynch supporters would have to muster one more Republican “yes” vote or have Vice President Joe Biden break the deadlock.

Those tallies have assumed that Florida’s senators would toe the party line.

On Thursday, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s office directed a reporter to remarks the senator made last week on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.

“The president has taken a blatantly unconstitutional step by basically nullifying the immigration laws of this country and announcing he’s going to refuse to enforce them, and you have … the nominee for the highest law enforcement officer in the country, with a straight face, arguing that she believes that it is constitutional to do what he’s just done,” said Rubio, a Republican from Miami. “That alone should disqualify her from being the next attorney general.”

A spokesman for Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Melbourne, said Nelson will vote in favor of her confirmation.

 The world of Washington politics was largely absent from the room Thursday as Bentley took his oath of office from Steven Merryday, U.S. District Judge for the Middle District.

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Political Fix podcast: Rick Wilson talks con artists, Mac takes on Max, and we sit down with John Thrasher

This week’s episode of the Political Fix podcast is out. (Subscribe on iTunes)

The show features GOP ad man Rick Wilson talking both politics and getting into detail about a personal battle he recently had with a con artist.

We also do a joint interview longtime Republican lobbyist and consultant Mac Stipanovich and Max Steele, the Florida Democratic Party’s press secretary. The two have developed reputation for epic Twitter battles, but had never met until we brought them together.

We also catchup with Florida State University President John Thrasher, and talk “Cut My Taxes” week, the guns on campus bill, and get an update on the House’s gambling legislation.

As always, follow @PoliticalFix on Twitter, and make sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.

Follow Political Fix on Twitter at @politicalfix

Proposal offers school districts money to create uniform policies for students

Mr. Charles Mearsheimer, right, passes an assignment to Qi Qi Anderson, center, during an eight grade U.S. History class at Oakridge Middle School on March 25, 2015, in Naples, Fla. Oakridge Middle School is one of several Collier schools that requires students to wear uniforms. (Dania Maxwell/Staff)
Mr. Charles Mearsheimer, right, passes an assignment to Qi Qi Anderson, center, during an eight grade U.S. History class at Oakridge Middle School on March 25, 2015, in Naples, Fla. Oakridge Middle School is one of several Collier schools that requires students to wear uniforms. (Dania Maxwell/Staff)

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, (@Jenna_Buzzacco)

Parents, rejoice! A proposal making its way through the state Legislature could put an end to early morning battles over what to wear to school.

The measure (HB 7043), dubbed the Students Attired for Education (SAFE) Act, encourages school districts to create a uniform policy in at least kindergarten through eighth grade. The measure provides additional funding to school boards that adopt a uniform policy, setting aside $10 million for districts is 2015-16.

“It’s not a mandate. It’s not a requirement. School districts are free to set a policy or not set a policy,” said Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, “We’re just … creating incentives and we believe, based on the testimony from school districts, that we’ll see positive results.”

The state House is expected to vote on the proposal this week.

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Amendment to testing bill could let third-graders advance without passing test

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, (@Jenna_Buzzacco)

Florida may allow third grade students to advance to the fourth grade, even if they perform poorly on statewide standardized tests.

The Senate appropriations committee on Wednesday agreed to suspend the policy until the state’s new standardized test is independently validated. The state switched to a new test this year, which replaces the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

The provision was included in a testing bill that aims to reduce the number of tests students in Florida’s public schools take each year. That proposal (SB 616) cleared the Senate committee 14-1.

Under the amended proposal, third grade students would not be required to pass the third-grade English Language Arts assessment to be promoted to the fourth grade.

However, it calls on students who perform in the bottom 20 percent to be identified as at-risk students. School districts must notify parents of their child’s performance and provide the “appropriate intervention and support services for student success in fourth grade.”

“We don’t want these kids to just be passed along for passed along sake,” said Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, the bill’s sponsor. “We want to look at the scores, look at the bottom 20 percent and identify them and put the burden back on the school district.”

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Teacher emails with political views raising concerns

Melhor Marie Leono, (@MelhorL)

A Collier School Board member and some local parents are concerned that teachers and principals are using district resources to share political opinions — and are calling for the district to determine whether hardball politics on the dais are seeping into the classroom.

Allegations first arose during a board meeting in January when one Barron Collier student said one of his teachers spoke out against December’s parent-led textbook review.

“I was told by a teacher … that certain members of the board want to censor certain textbook materials,” said Brit Lewis, a high school senior. “I was told that, ‘this board is majority right wing and are taking everything out that they don’t agree with.’ ”

In an interview, Brit said he did not want to name the teacher because she is well liked at the school. But, he said, the remarks made him feel uncomfortable. His dad, Doug Lewis, is a constant presence at school board meetings and has spoken in favor of more parent involvement in the textbook selection process.

The parent-led review process had some teachers and others worried there would be a push to censor classics like “The Great Gatsby.”

Lewis says the school district should remind teachers to toe the line when it comes to sharing their political views in the classroom or using district emails.

“That’s not the role of the school,” Lewis said. “You can’t use tax dollars to do that.”

During the March 10 board meeting, which went on well past midnight, board member Kelly Lichter handed out emails from one Pine Ridge Middle School teacher — Marianne Mangels — to a handful of other teachers and the school’s principal, Sean Kinsley.

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We focus on all things politics in the Sunshine State. We are the joint Bureau of E.W. Scripps / Tampa Tribune in Tallahassee.