AUGUSTA  — The Maine House today in a party-line vote gave preliminary approval to a GOP bill that would establish a study group to examine abolishing the Land Use Regulation Commission.

The vote was 75 to 65.

The commission regulates land use in the unorganized counties, a land mass more than three times larger than the state of Connecticut but with a population of only 9,000 people.

Republicans say that LURC has become an obstacle to economic development and that land use planning should be done at the county level to give local residents more input.

Republican leaders had originally planned to abolish LURC outright but lacked the votes in the Legislature. Instead, they proposed the study group, which would make recommendations to the Legislature next January.

Its 13 members would be appointed by Gov. Paul LePage, Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, and Speaker of the House Robert Nutting, R-Oakland.

The members would include landowners, county officials and a few interest groups, including representatives of sportsmen and the tourism industry.

In the bill, LURC is identified only in terms of creating a transition period for its elimination and completing its pending work before transferring its duties to other agencies.

Democrats say they want to reform the commission rather than abolish it. They opposed the bill because they worry that the study group would be packed with people who are determined to abolish the commission. They also want to establish a study group that allows for more diverse points of view.