A state house is a building that serves as the seat of government for a US state. Typically, state houses are actually complexes of buildings that house an array of government offices with a formal building, known as the capitol building, at the center of the complex. These facilities are open to the public and many offer guided tours for people who visit their state capitols. Some states require advance reservations for tours, and arrangements can often be made through the website of the legislature or the state's governor.
The state house has very old origins and in several states, the state house actually predates the formation of the United States, dating to an era when the early colonists needed seats of government to meet, pass laws, and address a variety of political matters. State houses are formal buildings designed to house both the senate and house of representatives for the state. The governor often has offices in the state house, as do other key government officials. Space for staff and supporters is also provided and the complex of buildings can house hundreds of employees.
Because state houses are symbols of government, the building where the legislature meets tends to be highly formal. Classical architecture featuring columns is common, as are gilded domes, ornately carved exteriors, and other decorative features like marble floors. Inside the state house, symbols associated with the state are usually integrated into the décor. Outside, the state flag is flown along with the United States flag, and other standards may be flown as well at different times of the year. Many state houses are historic landmarks.
Security is variable in state houses. Security guards are usually present and the buildings may use metal detectors and other security measures to protect the occupants. There are concerns about the impact of terrorist attacks on state governments in some states and many have disaster plans in place that include responses at the state house to protect legislators and other key officials.
People who are interested in visiting the seat of a state's government may want to make arrangements to visit while the legislature is in session so that they can see lawmakers at work. Many representatives and senators like opportunities to meet with constituents and if alerted ahead of time, they can set aside time for a meeting with visitors in their offices. It is advisable to call at least several days ahead, as many lawmakers have crowded schedules.