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Utah Senate looks forward to Sen. Okerlund's healthy return

SALT LAKE CITY — The day after announcing changes to Senate leadership while Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund undergoes evaluation for heart and kidney transplant surgery, Senate leaders said Friday they view the shifts as temporary and look forward to Okerlund's healthy return.

"We're not concerned about how things are shuffled up here. Our concerns are with him, his health and that he gets back here at full strength," said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy.

Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, will serve as majority leader until Okerlund's return. Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, will fill in for Van Tassell as Senate vice chairman of the Executive Appropriations Committee.

Van Tassell said he's not switching desks, and he's not planning to move into Okerlund's office. It made the most sense for him to fill in as majority leader because he does not plan to seek re-election.

It's unclear whether Okerlund, R-Monroe, will return to the Senate during the final weeks of the legislative session, which ends at midnight March 8.

Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said Okerlund is being treated at University Hospital, which is one of the best in the nation.

"One of the comforting things is, whatever can be done will be done," Adams said.

In 2014, Okerlund experienced a sudden cardiac arrest near the end of the legislative session. He was resuscitated and in recent months has been wearing an assistive device to help his heart pump.